Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 7th 2016 Contents Concerns about the state of the
T&T economy have dominat-
ed news broadcasts over the
past few weeks and, to some
extent, have left members of
the business community deep
in thought about strategies to moving forward.
The T&T Chamber of Industry and Com-
merce is certain of this: the wider international
economic environment---as it relates to energy
revenues---will always fundamentally remain
out of our control. The combination of increas-
ing oil production from OPEC, the remaining
supply glut on North American energy markets
and the removal of US restrictions on crude
oil exports have enabled lower prices for energy
commodities from the immediate term to the
In T&T, the economic downturn was evident
from Q4 2014 onward, concurrent with the
falling oil prices. This challenge has been
endured by businesses in both the energy and
non-energy sectors where sources of foreign
exchange remain an issue, particularly for the
In his address to the nation on December
29, 2015, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley drove
home the reality to us all by stressing the inabil-
ity of the non-energy sector to compensate
for the loss of export earnings from oil and
gas in either the short or medium term.
In the final analysis, our country s capacity
to withstand marked decline in economic activ-
ity and similar types of shock is predicated on
its ability to develop an economy with many
different and varied contributing sectors.
Beyond the mitigating measures outlined
by the Government, however, the T&T Cham-
JANUARY 7 • 2016 www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG15
T&T Chamber of
Industry and Commerce
ber remains adamant that work must start now in earnest
to facilitate the necessary structural transformation and
economic diversification to stave off the effects of another
In order to reap the rewards in the long run (beyond
five years), economic diversification will remain a topic
of high importance on the chamber s agenda. Along
with all key stakeholders, we propose to collectively up
the ante towards this objective in order to drive new
and innovative ways to attract foreign exchange inflows
and create sustainable employment, among other things.
The T&T Chamber recognises the present govern-
ment s policy to diversify the economy. Apart from
tourism, seven other clusters were recently identified:
1. Creative industries
2. Financial services
3. Maritime services
4. Software design and applications
5. Agriculture and agro-processing
6. Fishing and fish processing
7. Aviation services.
In November 2015, the Government followed through
on this stated policy approach by appointing an Economic
Development Advisory Board (EDAB) chaired by econ-
omist Dr Terrence Farrell. The board falls within the
purview of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), with
a stated mandate of "advising the Prime Minister on
matters of economic policy and spearheading the devel-
opment of strategies, plans, programmes and policies
towards the implementation of an economic development
framework". Through the EDAB the country will be
afforded analysis of the short and long term impacts of
alternative policies and investment, and develop an
approach for national innovation.
This is a strong move. Institutionally, the EDAB can
influence policy direction across ministries and action
across sectors with the required level of coordination.
The successful development of the identified
sectors/clusters will be sustained only if it gets buy-in
from the private sector.
Thus, the T&T Chamber stands ready to fulfil and
maintain its representative role in working towards the
development of a strong and sustainable national econ-
omy. The litmus test of good policy, however, remains
the evidence of support (or not) from the business com-
munity in implementing it.
Moreover, coming out of the boom period, how can
we enable businesses to apportion a share of excess
capital away from the import-resale model, toward the
production and development of value added goods
and/or services for export?
A proper diversification drive may well require a recon-
figuration of our understanding of what is "a good busi-
ness", and of how we do business. There are several
practical areas where the business community, govern-
ment, the labour movement and civil society can work
together to establish our collective commitment to pur-
suing this change.
Some of the challenging questions to which we must
eventually bring resolve are:
• How can we increase credit availability to the private
sector which will attract more foreign exchange?
• What is the right level of public-private sector par-
ticipation to create an acceptable development balance
for the nation?
• How can we encourage more large local corporations
and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to
more aggressively expand their export of goods and
• How can we facilitate investment in innovation?
• How can we better the development of the skills
and talent of our citizens so they can produce innovative
and competitive goods and services?
• Where can we lower the cost of doing business to
increase overall market efficiency?
As we grapple with these concepts and more, the
T&T Chamber reiterates that over the next few years
it will not be business as usual. We anticipate, however,
that as we prepare ourselves to confront the challenges
of urgent structural adjustment towards eventual eco-
nomic recovery, we will work with the mind-set that
country must come first always.
Getting serious about diversification
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