Non-Sustainability? The Lessons in Toilet Paper
The coming closure of the toilet paper manufacturing operation here is, or should be, a "teachable moment" in analyzing some of the practical concepts on what is sustainable where industry in Dominica is concerned.
We must start with the positive. Severin Mckenzie must be applauded for taking the bold initiative in starting the toilet paper manufacturing enterprise. Manufacturing is always more challenging that say, buy and sell operations, especially in Dominica. The benefits in terms of job creation and saving foreign exchange, however, make industry a priority in terms of government policy in any country. Nonetheless, both the manufacturer and the host government granting tax concessions have to be reasonably assured that the project is viable. Often, however, and even with pre-feasibility studies, it is only after actual operations that the "sustainability" of the project is established – or not!
Mackenzie's "Nature Isle" paper products were superior in terms of strength and softness (and I speak as an actual consumer). The "small sheet size", however was a limitation, as was, the inadequacy of the perforation. The company could still have secured a future, were it not for the "killer" failure: Retail Price! The product simply could not compete with products from the Caribbean and beyond.
Should government have provided "a subsidy" to enable its survival? What about (as was ridiculously proposed) gov't buying over the company, or providing "import-barriers" to restrict the imports of cheaper competitors? Not only is the latter really not possible in the modern era of international trading agreements, but the implication and result of all of this is that the "cost" to the country and/or to the actual consumer would be higher than if the "imported" competition was allowed to continue Were 9 or 10 jobs worthy of protecting – as compared to the literally tens of thousands of Dominicans that benefited from the cheaper imported toilet paper, a very basic consumer item? It is always dilemma (jobs vs consumers) for any government, but in the end, in this particular case, it really was a no-brainer.