Paula Gopee-Scoon, Minister of Trade and Industry: Interview

Interview: Paula Gopee-Scoon

How can the country enhance export performance and assist companies in penetrating new markets?

PAULA GOPEE-SCOON: The National Export Strategy will focus on improving the trading arrangements for exporters and making strategic interventions in 25 specific areas affecting trade and business. These include building exporter capacity, improving labour productivity, reducing government bureaucracy, improving access to trade finance and strengthening export promotion.

Initially, six services and non-energy sectors – food and beverage, yachting, fish and fish processing, film, fashion and energy services – will be prioritised for development for three of Trinidad and Tobago’s major trading markets, including the US, the UK and Canada. Through focusing on these six areas, we aim to improve services and non-energy export performance, our global competitiveness ranking, efficiency in trade-related institutions, export promotion support services and the expansion of new exporters.

In what ways will improvements to T&T’s quality framework enhance trade and market access?

GOPEE-SCOON: The private sector has indicated that the main challenges in expanding trade are quality-related. These range from poor public laboratory infrastructure, outdated legislation, inadequate enforcement and a lack of awareness of standards to the high cost of certification. The implementation of a national quality policy will guide reform to our national infrastructure, thereby addressing these problems. This will help the private sector participate effectively in global trade as they can access testing facilities at a reasonable cost and increase their price competitiveness.

Firms will be able to meet international standards and provide quality goods and services thereby expanding their market access. It will also increase the confidence of international corporate buyers in the quality compliance capacity of T&T’s exporting firms. Overall, the implementation of a national policy to improve standards will boost T&T’s ability to participate in trade, both intra-regionally and extra-regionally.

To what extent is the government working to improve the ease of doing business?

GOPEE-SCOON: The incentives regime of T&T has remained static for too long. In response, a comprehensive plan to improve the ease of doing business in the country has been approved. Developed in collaboration with several ministries and government agencies, it will be implemented over a 44-month period, achieving major deliverables every six months.

The plan includes a series of administrative and legislative reforms, including the operationalisation of a fixed container scanner at the Port of Port of Spain, significantly improving the efficiency of inspection and clearing of shipments; the operationalisation of the exchequer and audit regulations, allowing electronic payments to be made to government and related agencies; automation of the processes involved in obtaining a construction permit; and the development and implementation of a secured transactions and collateral registry system, allowing businesses to use their moveable property as collateral to improve access to credit for innovators and start-ups.

We have also completed phase I of the Tamana InTech Park. The sectors of focus here include ICT, business process outsourcing, data processing centres, animation and software development, high-value manufacturing and assembly, and financial services. An added advantage will be the presence of the University of T&T’s ICT campus, which will provide graduates with the right skill sets for industrial development.

The government has also approved and is currently implementing a national policy for special economic zones, which will provide for a new institutional, legislative and administrative framework through which public-private partnerships are encouraged and incentivised in strategic areas of national importance.

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Paula Gopee-Scoon

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The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2017

Economy chapter from The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2017