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Fostering competition important

Bhutanese manufacturers and businesses could very well have been in the mind of a great American millionaire-author Kiyosaki when he famously declared: “Failure defeats losers, failure inspires winners.” Perhaps we are still a long way from realising the fact that sensible innovation and relentless marketing are at the heart of any successful business. To drive the point straight home, local brick manufacturers asking the government to save them in the competitive market is asking for a little too much.

Eleven representatives of local brick manufacturers met with the prime minister on Monday and pleaded for rescue measures to protect them from the onslaught of foreign manufacturers and by much preferred imported products in the market. Encouraging local businesses, especially in the booming construction sector, is important. Its immediate benefits besides, long-term advantages of having a robust manufacturing industry in the country cannot be denied. That is why, although not a very rational solution in the hindsight, the Cabinet in December 2015 issued an executive order making it mandatory for all constructions undertaken by the government and public sectors to use locally manufactured concrete bricks certified by Bhutan Standards Bureau (BSB).

The fact that builders still prefer imported brick to the locally-made says much about the quality even as they are BSB-certified. Availability of the locally-made bricks must also be brought in the perspective because the same Cabinet order states that import of red clay bricks would be allowed only upon unavailability and non-feasibility of local materials with prior and written certification from agencies and project engineers concerned.

If as the local manufacturers claim the locally-produced bricks are indeed superior in quality and environment-friendly, then the gap lies clearly in marketing failure on their part. Pricing is often the factor in Bhutan when a locally-produce item is compared alongside those imported from abroad. Examples abound. Most Bhutanese cannot afford to buy locally-grown vegetables even though they know that consuming imported vegetables with high pesticide contents is hazardous to health. That is perhaps why we are still battling against illegal import of vegetables in the country. Why everything locally-produced should be overpriced is an enigma. It is a culture that we can and should do away with for our own good.

Government must intervene but a blanket measure to stop competition is not the way. It could affect the quality of products. Rather it should come up with a policy that will foster healthy competition and better locally-made products. Most important of all, government and public agencies should not specify just one product requirement or a company. Worse could be giving fecund grounds for a monopoly.

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