The limited supply of foreign exchange (forex) has led some contractors to seek payment in US dollars from Unicomer Group — parent company of Courts — during construction of the Unicomer Freeport Campus.
This was revealed yesterday by vice-chairman and executive vice-president of Unicomer Group, Guillermo J Siman, during the formal opening of the 240,000-square-foot facility in Freeport.
“Many of the local contractors would ask us if we would pay them in US dollars so that they could import some of the products they needed. That’s a reality that we have and that is why I think it’s so important — some of the efforts the Government is making — but you do need to be a little bit less dependent on oil and gas, and try to generate new industries that can start to generate that foreign currency that the country needs.”
Asked if Unicomer made any payments in US dollars, as requested, Siman said this was sometimes facilitated. “Remember that to be able to build this facility, we got some loans from First Citizens.
Those loans, in many cases, are in the local currency, so we pay them in TT dollars.”
Siman was speaking with reporters yesterday after the formal opening of the campus, which cost more than US$50 million to build over a two-year period.
Standing on 25 acres of land along the southbound lane of the Uriah Butler Highway, the facility includes a Courts Superstore, ServiTech, a distribution centre and a five-storey office building which houses both Unicomer Trinidad and the Unicomer Caribbean Regional headquarters.
On the impact on Unicomer itself, Siman said the company had been able to manage so far, thanks, in part, to its “very good relationship” with local bankers. He was quick to shoot down speculation that the company chose to build the campus in Trinidad because it had problems repatriating US dollars to its head office.
Courts’ inventory of products includes local and imported furniture. Following up on the forex issue, Newsday asked if the company had begun ordering more locally-made furniture to offset the need for forex.
Siman said there had not been any significant increase and that Courts had always ordered from local manufacturers “because the customers want local.”
Trade and Investment Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, who spoke at the opening, also said having Unicomer Group’s largest distribution centre in Trinidad “augurs well for our economy in terms of hundreds of permanent jobs it will create and increased economic activity.”
In addition, since Unicomer’s facility has been constructed, the Trade Ministry has seen a significant increase in requests for land in Freeport.
Gopee-Scoon said, “I see this as an emerging business and commercial activity area. There’s actually a request for a similar type of distribution centre. Meanwhile, there’s close to TT$3 billion worth of new business that we are going to see unveiled in the next two to three years in Trinidad and Tobago in construction, with the new private housing developments, as well as in import and distribution and the manufacturing sector.”