The minister made the comments as she delivered the feature address at the launch of the Trade and Investment Convention 2016 on Monday at the Marriot hotel, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain. TIC 2016 is scheduled to be held from July 6-9, 2016 at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya under the theme “Creating Pathways for Business.” She said that since the general elections Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela has held two high level ministerial meetings in Port-of-Spain and in Caracas to further cooperation in trade and both sides have expressed their interest in establishing new mechanisms for the exchange of manufactured goods in order to enhance bilateral trade.
Gopee-Scoon said the launch of the Trade and Investment Convention was very timely as it came at a time when the local manufacturing sector was facing serious challenges. She said the sector is accounting for only 8.1 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and although its contribution is projected to expand by a modest 1.3 percent this year, this growth is expected to come from only the food, beverage and printing sectors while all the other sectors are expected to show declines. She added that it was disappointing that this country was ranked 88 out of 189 countries in the 2016 Doing Business Report and at 89 in the Global Competitiveness Report.
Minister Gopee-Scoon said that in order to provide additional financing for small and medium-sized enterprises, the Ministry of Trade and Industry has begun to work with the World Bank Group to expand access to credit by implementing the Secured Transactions and Collateral Registry System, a legal and institutional framework designed to facilitate the use of moveable property such as industrial and agricultural equipment, agricultural products, machinery, inventory and raw goods as collateral for business and consumer credit. She said this was a necessary move because in spite of the adequate liquidity in the financial sector, there remains a significant credit gap between the credit sought by business, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises and what can be secured through financial institutions.
She hoped that over the next 18 months the ministry could have the legal framework in place for this system which, she said, “will unleash a new wave of financing opportunities,” for members of the TTMA, particularly the small and medium-sized businesses so that they will be able to expand their operations.
However, she said while the mechanism will provide financing for companies to expand their operations, the challenge is really to expand markets. Gopee-Scoon said over 200 local companies are exporting to CARICOM while less than 20 are exporting to Latin America.
She said these were disappointing results especially because of the efforts which had been made in the last few years to negotiate trade agreements with several countries. To deal with this she said the Ministry of Trade and Industry will hold a meeting with all stakeholders later this month to develop a trade penetration strategy to ensure that this country’s goods and services take better advantage of opportunities in existing and new markets.
She said the government plans to build commercial offices such as the Trade Facilitation Office in Cuba in strategic locations to facilitate this country’s export drive and intends to pursue aggressively the built in agenda for services and investment in the partial scope and free trade agreements already negotiated as well as ensure that complementary arrangements are in place such as the bilateral treaties and double taxation agreements.
Also speaking at the function was the President of the TTMA, Dr Rolph Balgobin.
He said TIC 2016 will be the 17th year of the trade show.
Balgobin said that TIC 2015 attracted more than 300 international buyers and about 10,000 business attendees over the three days of the convention. He said TIC has facilitated more than TT$4 billion in trade leads over the 16 years of its existence.
He said manufacturing in Trinidad and Tobago accounts for between 8-12 percent of GDP and employs more than 50,000 people - about ten percent of the work force.
He said that after oil and gas, manufacturing is the most significant and proven earner of foreign exchange reserves.
He said the energy sector had done “a fantastic job” of building and sustaining the economy but now that gas and oil prices were on the decline there was the need for something else to step in and support the economy until the energy sector could rise again.
He said the time had come for business to step onto the field and fight for the economic development of Trinidad and Tobago. “It is time for a captain’s innings from the leadership of the private sector,” he said.
Balgobin said manufacturing is a proven attractive option for the development of the economic landscape as even developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom had come to realise.
He said that after years of being deluded by terms such as intellectual capital and innovation and seduced in some respects by the potential of financial services, the leaders of these economies have realised that both these concepts find life within or around manufacturing and so both these economies have now tilted to manufacturing.
He said Germany, one of the strongest and most economies on the planet never and never stopped manufacturing. He added that Trinidad and Tobago will do well to look at their example.
He said TIC does not only seek to open up markets for local businesses but also to attract foreign investors to Trinidad and Tobago by exposing them to the potential for investment here, adding that the trade convention is not just only about finding customers but also about finding investors. He said TIC 2016 will be placing special attention on new markets to which the local business sector has special access through trade agreements to see if it can attract some of their buyers and investors to the local trade convention.
The Chief Executive Officer of the TTMA, Ramesh Ramdeen said the aim of the association is to ensure that more small and mediumsized enterprises become exporters.
“We will go out there and bring relevant strategic buyers to Trinidad and Tobago.” He said the TTMA will attract buyers to TIC so that the small and medium-sized enterprises who want to export would have the opportunity to meet these buyers.
The Guardian Group is joining the sponsors of the Trade and Investment Convention for 2016 for the first year. Other sponsors are the Ministry of Trade and Industry; blink | bmobile and Balroop’s.