The services sector is the largest in the T&T economy, contributing annually on average $43 billion to its Gross Domestic Product, according to the T&T Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI)
The services sector is diverse, covering business services (professional, computer etc), construction, transport, communications, financial services, tourism/travel, Government operations among others. It employs about 80 per cent of the labour force, some 422,000 people.
Going forward in 2024, the TTCSI is advocating for a more comprehensive approach to develop the industry.
Its CEO, Vashti Guyadeen, shared the plans the organisation is seeking to implement this year with the Sunday Business Guardian.
“Our focus is on strengthening the institutional framework of services sector associations and enhancing the capabilities of our entrepreneurs and MSMEs to become competitive in international markets. We believe in nurturing an ‘exporters mindset’ and are committed to supporting our members through initiatives like the Gateway to Trade Export Accelerator Programme (which we successfully completed in 2023) and international networking opportunities.
“A key element of our vision is the establishment of a Services Sector Sustainable Development Task Force, which will play a pivotal role in strategising and implementing plans for sustainable growth and diversification of the sector,” Guyadeen detailed.
The issue of addressing the country’s foreign exchange situation is high on the agenda which, she emphasised is critical.
The business support organisation is also seeking a more strategic allocation of foreign exchange resources to ensure there is support for growth and international competitiveness of businesses within the services sectors, Guyadeen said.
Stating that there ought to be the provision of new fiscal incentives for net foreign exchange earners, she noted that for example, global demand for animated content is driven by audience population, with the United States being the biggest consumer in terms of content value.
“Given that the large and diverse workload required to produce animated content as well as the ease at which this workload can be distributed and done globally (without shipping implications), the demand for animation production services is consistently growing,” Guyadeen said.
This, she added, makes the animation industry a net foreign exchange earner for practitioners of any size.
“Yet the local practitioners –whose production inputs are all local – have little/no need for foreign exchange,” she pointed out, as she advised the Government can advance funding to animation practitioners through loan guarantees or interest-free loans up to the value of the contract through agencies such as EximBank and/or Nedco. This should come without all the hassle of three years audited financial statements, which many of these practitioners cannot produce as well as avail fiscal incentives to investors/financiers willing to support these projects.
“Our focus is on ensuring equitable access and efficient use of these resources, which are vital for the health and expansion of the services sector,” Guyadeen stressed.
She also explained that the TTCSI is keenly aware of several critical areas where Government’s action is required.
These, Guyadeen said, include enhancing synergies among various sectors such as agriculture, culture, and manufacturing to bolster the tourism sector; expanding financial support mechanisms, including incorporating credit unions into existing SME loan guarantee programmes and strengthening the social infrastructure to address socio-economic challenges and reduce crime, which is vital for a stable business environment.
Regarding the country’s worrying crime situation, Guyadeen said there needs to be the enhancement of the expertise within the T&T Police Service (TTPS).
“This recommendation was made with the intention to not only strengthen the capabilities of law enforcement but also to create a synergy where businesses and authorities can work hand-in-hand,” Guyadeen explained.
Further, she stated that going forward it is important for key stakeholders in law enforcement to discuss and implement effective strategies.
“These meetings must not just be about dialogue but must focus on developing actionable plans that can be swiftly implemented to provide immediate relief to affected businesses and the national community since all citizens are impacted.
“Our goal is clear – to create a safer and more secure environment where businesses can operate without the fear of criminal interference. This can only be achieved through a collective effort,” Guyadeen advised.
Regarding the ease of doing business she is also hopeful that this can further improve in 2024.
The TTCSI’s CEO noted that in 2023, this country witnessed some improvements in the ease of doing business, but there is still a substantial scope for further development.
“The Government’s initiative towards digitisation of processes marks a progressive step; however, we advocate for a more holistic approach. This includes streamlining procedures, cutting down bureaucratic red tape, and fostering a business environment that is conducive to growth and innovation,” Guyadeen stated.
Particularly, she noted there’s an urgent need to refine business processes, bolster digital infrastructure, and nurture an ecosystem that supports both established businesses and budding entrepreneurs.
“We believe that simplifying these processes is not just about adopting digital solutions, but also about creating policies and regulatory frameworks that are more responsive to the needs of the business community,” Guyadeen added.
Additionally, she said from a sector-specific perspective, focused attention is required for sub-sectors like tourism and maritime services.
These sectors, according to Guyadeen, despite their high potential for job creation and foreign exchange earnings, continue to face significant bureaucratic challenges.
Therefore, she emphasised that in 2024 the aim must be to eliminate these hurdles and streamline operations, thereby unlocking their full potential for contributing to the national economy.
Trade Minister Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon has always underscored the importance the services sector to the country’s economy.
At a breakfast meeting hosted by the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation in celebration of Tunapuna Week last November, she urged businesses to operate with a “people-first mindset” with respect to producing quality goods and services.
“This people-centred approach has a multiplier effect on communities by improving the social fabric not just within the local community but throughout the business community.
“Incorporating businesses into local government decisions and policy-making is, therefore, an imperative. As such, this event is very fitting and one I hope that the corporation will build upon,” the minister suggested.
She added that stakeholder engagement and continued dialogue are also necessary and should be at the forefront of decision making for development.