Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon is concerned about a slowdown in T&T's manufacturing sector just when the nation's champion revenue earners, oil and gas, are in a state of depression.
In her address at Monday's launch of the T&T Manufacturer's Association's (TTMA) Trade and Investment Convention at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, the minister said the sector, which was supposed to be the second highest earner in terms of GDP after energy, was experiencing serious challenges.
"The sector is now accounting for only 8.1 per cent of GDP and though the sector is projected to experience modest growth of 1.3 per cent in 2015, this is driven by expansion only in the food and beverage and printing subsectors. All other sub-sectors are projected to decline. There is therefore no doubt that the private sector and the government must now collaborate more than ever to drive the expansion of the manufacturing sector," she said.
Gopee-Scoon said Government was also concerned about T&T ranked 88th out of 189 countries in the 2016 Doing Business Report and 89th in the 2015/2015 Global Competitiveness Report. She said decisive action had been taken to deal with one of the top issues consistently been identified by the private sector as an impediment to its confidence in the economy–access to foreign exchange.
"In this regard, we appreciate the sentiments expressed by the TTMA in its recent statement on the Government's decision to ensure the Central Bank's reversion of the pre-April 2014 system of foreign exchange distribution," she said
Gopee-Scoon said the trade ministry was actively working with the World Bank Group to expand access to credit by implementing a Secured Transactions and Collateral Registry (STCR) System from which local manufacturers could benefit. She explained it is a legal and institutional framework designed to facilitate use of movable property as collateral for business and consumer credit.
The minister added that reform was necessary because of a significant gap between credit sought by businesses–particularly small and medium enterprises–and what could be obtained through financial institutions.
"It is our hope that over the next 18 months, we will have the legal framework in place for the STCR which will unleash a new wave of financing opportunities for your members to be able to expand their operations," she said.
"While your members are able to access the credit to expand their operations, the challenge will be to penetrate new markets. Our companies must move progressively beyond the Caricom markets.
"Based on data supplied by ExporTT, we have discerned that there are over 200 domestic firms exporting to Caricom, while less than 20 currently export to Latin America. This is indeed worrisome, especially because of the efforts made in recent years to negotiate trade agreements with Cuba, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Guatemala and El Salvador," the minister said.