One of the main issues affecting the ease of doing business in T&T is the delays for imports and exports goods at ports. “It takes about 15 to 19 days to conduct business on the port,” said Trade, Industry and Investment Minister Vasant Bharath, referring to the Port of Port-of-Spain. “There is too much bureaucracy involved, so we are going to merge the Single Electronic Window (SEW) and the Automated Systems for Customs Data (Asycuda) to reduce the time it takes.” SEW was introduced in 2009 to provide seamless transaction for the documentation of imports and exports. “This would allow all required agencies to have access to documents real time. The two systems were going to be implemented separately because in the past, there was a reluctance on the part of Customs to share information as a result of its Data Protection Act of 2011.”
The act seeks to protect an individual’s right to privacy and maintain sensitive personal information as private and personal. Comptroller of Customs and Excise Fitzroy John said the Customs Amendment Bill is intended to address several issues, among them is the issue of the confidentiality of trade data to allow the interface of these two systems. He confirmed that discussions with the Minister is on-going and for the issue has been addressed and the legislation is just part of the process. Bharath said on Monday he met with Comptroller John and there is a commitment on both sides to have the systems integrated. However, he said, the integration would require a small change in the Customs Act to allow the sharing of data. Once the Asycuda is merged with SEW, the process is expected to take 24 hours. “The change in the Act would include a clause that would allow Customs Division to share certain information with the SEW system,” Bharath said. Bharath said he will be presenting a note on the change to Cabinet and, once approved, the integration should take place by month’s end.
He said he plans to make T&T one of the top ten countries in the World Bank Group’s Ease of Doing Business in the next two years. In 2012, T&T ranked 68 out of 183 economies in the 2012 Ease of Doing Business survey, up eight spots from 76 in 2011. The minister made his statements when asked to comment on T&T falling three spots from 81 to 84 out of 144 countries in the 2012/2013 World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report. This was the same position T&T held in 2010/2011 after climbing to 86 in 2009/2010. Then the country made a slight improvement in 2011/2012, when it jumped to 81, but slipped to 84. Barbados continues to be the most competitive country in the Caribbean. In a statement issued on Monday, Prof Miguel Carillo, executive director of the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business, said T&T must work on consolidating its competitive position and improving its problematic areas. The 2013 WEF Competitiveness survey outlined T&T’s most problematic areas: inefficient government bureaucracy, poor work ethic in the labour force, insufficient capacity to innovate, corruption and crime.
Chemistry, Food and Drug Division
Another key area affecting the business community is the inconsistent application of standards at the Chemistry, Food and Drug Division, said Bharath. He said its standards are not international, causing importers to suffer. Barbados and Jamaica have been complaining of not having access to the T&T market because they have been blocked by the division. He cited the example of importing beef patties from Jamaica and milk from Barbados. In 2009, T&T and Jamaica locked heads over Jamaica exporting patties to T&T. Jamaica described it as a non-tarriff barrier imposed against them under the guise of the World Trade Organidation’s (WTO) sanitary and phytosanitary guidelines. The WTO guidelines, which came into effect 1995, allowed countries to set their own standards to ensure their citizens are not exposed to harmful products. In the June issue of the Barbados Nation, Richard Cozier, managing director and chief executive officer of Banks Holding Company, said “all the milk products and some juices produced by subsidiary company Pine Hill Dairy were being deliberately blocked from entering the Trinidad market by its food and drug agency.”
On July 31, the Barbados Today online Web site said, “Barbados flour is still being kept off the supermarket shelves of the T&T market—close to a month after it was first being blocked.” T&T authorities insisted that the commodity, which is manufactured by Barbados Mills Ltd, undergoes stringent testing. Bharath said a note is currently before Cabinet to move the Chemistry, Food and Drug Division from under Ministry of Health to Trade, Industry and Investment. “We would also make the Bureau of Standards, the national body for food and non-food items, therefore, we would have a consistent set of standards across the board,” Bharath said. President of the Manufacturer’s Association Dominic Hadeed said the major challenge of improving the country’s competitevness falls rests with the Government. He said there is very little the private sector can do. “The Government has to sit down and look at the problematic areas and see how best it can improve.”