Last update: 05-Dec-2013 1:31 am
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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AmCham: Move away from energy
Hugh Howard, president of the American Chamber of Commerce of T&T (AmCham), called on government to strengthen the local agricultural sector and move away from the energy sector at a post-budget panel discussion at Capital Plaza in Port-of-Spain on Wednesday.
“We believe that for T&T to experience sustainable economic growth and jobs, the economy must be diversified within and away from the energy sector which employs a mere 4 per cent of jobs but contributes approximately 50 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP),” he said. “We must, inter alia, strengthen our agricultural sector and thereby reduce our high dependence on imported commodities, from regional and extra-regional sources, thereby also ensuring continuing access to safe and nutritional food for the population.
“We at AmCham T&T believe that our manufacturers and service providers must be assisted in penetrating new markets and are therefore encouraged by the reference in the budget statement to focus on facilitating and developing small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as making the Exim-Bank relevant to the objective of export-led growth.”
Howard said as a trade organisation with membership in the Association of American Chambers of Commerce of the Caribbean and Latin America, AmCham “is well positioned and willing to assist its membership, government and the wider society in its thrust towards achieving a more productive, competitive and buoyant economy and nation.”
The AmCham president was the first of five speakers on the panel. Economist Indera Sagewan-Alli, executive director of the University of the West Indies' Centre for Competitiveness, agreed that not enough was being done for agriculture in T&T. She told Finance and Economy Minister Larry Howai he was “just playing dolly house” with the treatment of the agricultural sector in the national budget 2013/2014.
ANSA McAL Group Chief Operating Officer Gerry Brooks said the phased introduction of the property tax beginning “July 2014 is too early.” As the tax starts with levies on industrial properties and plants. He asked the government to “be careful not to put a disincentive in place” as someone who had planned to upgrade a plant in T&T could now be dissuaded from doing so.
Ernst & Young regional tax service line leader Wade George echoed Brooks' sentiment that “we should be very careful that we don't use this as a disincentive” to industry. Sagewan-Alli also said while she welcomes the new incentives for oil companies in the national budget, she fears “that commitment to a more balanced economy is going to be lost” as diversification could suffer amidst a worsened Dutch disease.
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