Interview: Paula Gopee-Scoon

What is the potential for the creation of new industrial clusters in Trinidad & Tobago?

PAULA GOPEE-SCOON: In addition to the Point Lisas petrochemical cluster, our economic history has also seen the creation of the largest manufacturing sector in the region. The sector contribution to GDP averages 8% and accounts for approximately 55,000 jobs. Many of our manufacturers are net foreign exchange earners running sophisticated operations. We see immediate room for growth in new markets, and are targeting the doubling of foreign trade contributions over the next five years. In light of T&T’s favourable geographical location, strong links with neighbouring countries and solid export base, the second high-potential cluster is in the commercial and leisure maritime industry. There is existing business in ship repair and dry docking with the potential for expansion, as well as for increased activity in the relatively subdued bunkering, trans-shipment and cold stacking segments. Marinas will be developed in both Trinidad and Tobago with further yachting activities, including storage, maintenance and repair services.

The average combined throughput of our two cargo ports is 600,000 TEUs, but to retain our role as a regional trans-shipment hub, we need to increase cost efficiencies, modernise our ports and increase their capacity to accommodate larger vessels. A request for proposals will be issued shortly for a new port just slightly east of the existing one in Port of Spain. 21 lots in the Tamana InTech Park will be available for business by September 2016. Tamana will facilitate the design of advanced technologies by forging synergies with research centres, educational institutions, tech companies and high-value manufacturing.

How can current free zone incentives be developed to attract non-energy investment?

GOPEE-SCOON: T&T has several free zone incentives but the current framework’s attractiveness is limited. Our main industrial policy focus involves the modernisation of the current regime to more strictly align with our diversification thrust into tourism, agriculture, maritime, financial services and ICT. We have looked at free zone regimes in several countries and regions – including Ghana, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ireland and Bangladesh – to discover the right combination of incentives for T&T. Specifically, we are currently in advanced discussions to finalise a new set of industry-specific and developmental criteria to enhance the overall international competitiveness of our economic zones.

Is the government taking steps to encourage business by reducing the amount of red tape?

GOPEE-SCOON: We are not pleased about the time it takes for goods to enter and exit the country at present. As a starting point, we expect our Customs procedures to be reduced from six days to four for exports and from nine days to six for imports in the almost immediate future. We will then be able to use this improvement as a basis for continuous alignment with international standards.

In April 2016 we signed on to a $25m programme with the Inter-American Development Bank to expand our TTBizLink single electronic window. This new investment specifically targets the optimisation of our foreign trade and business performance by improving, for instance, domestic inter-operability and modernising all our trade laws. Key facilitation will be the processing of online payments via government platforms on a 24/7 basis.

Are you pursuing further bilateral trade relations?

GOPEE-SCOON: The Panama Partial Scope Trade Agreement is soon to take legal effect. At this stage the focus is being placed on exploiting the trade agreements that exist with Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Guatemala.