Local businesses have been encouraged by Government to export or increase their exports, in order to earn much-needed foreign exchange for the country. While many are interested in doing exactly that, not everyone has the experience or know-how to navigate the pitfalls associated with doing business in another country.
Recognising this, Republic Bank Limited (RBL) has begun hosting trade facilitation missions in South America and Africa – the bank has operations in Guyana, Suriname and Ghana. It also has a presence in Grenada, Barbados and the Cayman Islands.
In November 2016, the bank took a 200-strong delegation to Guyana for its inaugural trade facilitation mission. The success of that led the bank to organise a second trip in September 2017, this time to Ghana in West Africa.
Business Day sat down with RBL's general manager of Corporate Investment Banking Karen Yip Chuck to find out more about this new service.
"Given that the TT economy has been contracting and with the foreign exchange situation what it is, we realised we could help our customers diversify and create opportunities for them by leveraging on RBL's own expansion across the region and internationally.
"People want to expand and they're looking for markets to export to but rather than them doing the research themselves, why not rely on us? We've done it already, we've done the research. So we're trying to help our customers, not only in TT but to expand their markets as well."
Yip Chuck also pointed out that customers have the added benefit of knowing that whoever they're introduced to on one of these missions has already been vetted by the bank. That's not all. The bank's Economic Intelligence Unit tracks the daily economic activity of countries in which it has a presence, which means delegates have access to the latest economic, legal, tax and ease of doing business data necessary to enter the market.
Talking about what makes Ghana such an attractive option for local businesses, Yip Chuck cited some key statistics. Namely, Ghana has a population of approximately 29 million while TT has an estimated 1.4 million. Ghana's gross domestic product as of the first quarter of 2017 was 6.6 per cent. The country has many natural resources, including oil, rubber, gold, copper and diamonds.
Ghana tops the ease of doing business rankings for Africa. It's also strategically located on the coast of West Africa, not only for trade between Ghana and TT but also as an entry point to the rest of Africa – the continent has an estimated population of 350 million.
Asked about the feedback from delegates, Yip Chuck said one company originally intended to explore export opportunities for its mosquito coils but after learning just how much potential exists there, decided to consider selling its brand of popular deli meats, hams and turkeys in Ghana.
Yip Chuck shared a testimonial from the company: "This was a great fact-finding first trip to Ghana. Well organised with proper profile, headed by senior executives of the bank. We got more out of it than if we had gone on our own."
Another success story came from The University of the West Indies (The UWI) Cave Hill campus. The campus' principal and pro vice chancellor Professor Violet Eudine Barriteau, accompanied by the dean and deputy dean of the Medical Sciences Faculty, met with their counterparts during the September 26 to 28 trip.
Yip Chuck said, "While we were there, they were able to sign agreements to allow bilateral exchanges of students and professors, with full accreditation. Right now, most African students select American universities if they're pursuing degrees outside but what (Barriteau and company) are trying to do is market Cave Hill as an education tourism destination."
Overall feedback on the Guyana and Ghana trips has been quite good, Yip Chuck told Business Day.
"Customers have thanked us for going the extra mile to add value to what we offer. We are the only bank in TT providing such a service."
While the two trade facilitation missions so far have been for RBL's corporate clients, anyone who would like to go on a future mission can contact any of the bank's corporate managers or Yip Chuck.
The bank is planning a trip to Suriname in 2018.