Charge d’affaires at the US Embassy John McIntyre says the United States is interested in doing business here but the shortage of foreign exchange is a big hindrance to this ideal.
He said the forex situation is so dire that American companies have been calling new political/economic chief Kyle Fonay requesting the Embassy’s help to find legal representation to sue local business owners who are owing them. McIntyre said they have been telling their citizens not to pursue legal action because they (TT nationals) literally can’t get the money.
He was speaking on Thursday night at a cocktail reception hosted by the San Fernando City Corporation, in commemoration of attaining city status 29 years ago.
“They want to know, ‘Why can I not get paid?, Why can I not get my goods? Why should I, as a US company, send anything to TT when the suppliers cannot pay me?’“
McIntyre said although the US government’s assistance is restricted to areas of counter terrorism, criminal justice and education, he has tried engaging Minister of Finance Colm Imbert and the Central Bank, on making foreign exchange more accessible.
He told business people, “I have gone to the Central Bank (CBTT), I got a lot of real academic talk about import substitution and aligning this with that. You know, I used to work with the Federal Reserves and, even with that, I had no idea what he (CBTT representative) was talking about.”
McIntyre also elicited laughter when he revealed, “I am probably one of the few people that get along with Mr Imbert. I have talked to him repeatedly about it.
At the reception, centred on developing business between the two countries, McIntyre, who was also accompanied by consular chief Timothy Swanson and Fonay to discuss business opportunities, said crime and the failure to diversify the oil and gas economy, are also among the disincentives to attracting American investors here.
As he outlined the challenges for American businesses, McIntyre made it clear to his audience, which included San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello, “I am exceptionally blunt. I am not your normal diplomat, I don’t wear a tie and I speak my mind.”
He said while the strong education system was one of the key attraction to investing here, TT’s dependence on oil and gas and its failure to diversify, even as international prices plummet, is also a deterrent.
“Obviously this is an oil and gas economy. There is always a lot of talk about diversification, but it is hard to diversify when you have been so oil and gas dependent. American companies would love to see where is the diversification, where can we actually have a niche and make a difference here.”
McIntyre described the crime rate, “as a drag on our potential because companies are not going to come here if either their employees or investment are not safe. We have some large services here that are interested in expanding, but they are going to feel like they don’t want to come if they feel that their employees, local or expats and their families are not going to be safe.”