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A 2017 hope for greater productivity and competitiveness

Thursday, January 5 2017

We have just bid goodbye to another year, and as we welcome 2017, the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce (T&T Chamber) wishes all our readers and the entire nation, a Happy and Prosperous New Year. Regardless of the highs and lows of the past year, we encourage everyone to stay focused and keep pressing on towards accomplishing your stated goals – both individual and collective.

Last year was undoubtedly a challenging year. Our cautious hope for some level of economic growth did not materialise and it became all too obvious that our country was indeed experiencing a recession. This trend is expected to continue, with only sluggish growth forecast for 2017, and so the challenge continues for business, government, labour and indeed, the average person who lives and works in Trinidad and Tobago.

We believe, however, that the situation is not entirely bleak. While Trinidad and Tobago will remain dependent on gas and oil for some time to come - despite their declining revenues – opportunities to help transform our country still exist.

Developments on the international front could have a positive spin-off impact for our country. OPEC producers have agreed to production cuts of 1.2 million barrels per day which, if adhered to, would help crude oil prices to stabilise at a more positive rate. On the gas front, bpTT’s much anticipated Juniper field is expected to bring some relief by mid-2017, producing some 590 million standard cubic feet of gas. Additionally, contracts signed within the last few years will give life to exploration efforts as we seek to effectively monetise these natural resources over the next decade.

In the meantime, the adjustment period, and how our limited income is managed will become critical to our country’s sustainability efforts. It is very unlikely that Trinidad and Tobago will ever return to the heyday of oil and gas that allowed for government expenditure (according to the last mid-term review) of some $31 billion over the a decade on the fuel subsidy, apart from the numerous other transfers and subsidies committed to annually.

Government and State agencies will be expected to exhibit a much higher level of collaboration and facilitation, along with greater transparency and accountability.

The T&T Chamber has long advocated for government to divest itself of enterprises which compete with the private sector and instead opt for a facilitating role in business development. Now is the right time to make such changes and we encourage an accelerated programme for State sector transformation.

We cannot overstate the value of satisfying requirements that will assist businesses to seek out new markets and compete internationally, and we make reference to, inter alia, FATCA-compliance and the Procurement Act as requiring action.

Ordinary citizens are very much a part of the equation and their role is not underestimated. They will continue to play a significant role in effecting much needed change. Increased productivity, re-tooling and less reliance on the State would see us returning to a more purposeful way of life – one that was once the norm rather than the exception.

All of the above could unfortunately hinge on how we as a country treat with crime, which remains our single biggest threat - along with the creeping sense of hopelessness it tends to engender. We simply must find a way to bring crime within manageable levels so that each of us can once more experience a sense of safety, security and peace of mind. That in itself, will be a significant gain.

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