N Touch
Tuesday 22 October 2019
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Commentary

Getting real on manufacturing

AT the launch of the annual Trade and Industry Conference, TTMA president Franka Costelloe was bullish about the prospects for manufacturers in 2019, describing the prospects as “ground-breaking.”

Costelloe, appointed president of the trade and manufacturing body in April, pointed to strategic belt tightening by manufacturers, new markets in Latin America and Cuba and continued competitive advantages for manufacturers in the sector. Some of those advantages favour large manufacturers, our low cost of electricity and international ports with gateway access to both North, Central and South America.

Outgoing president Christopher Alcazar expressed concern in December about consumer uncertainty and conservative expenditure and increased taxation by the government, and continued to lament the ongoing constraints on foreign exchange access. More compelling is the TTMA’s focus on helping manufacturers to develop new contacts and build promotional relationships through the TIC.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry puts 2018 exports to Cuba at $56 million and to Panama at $367 million. The TTMA has done compelling work with its outreach programmes, including assistance to farmers whose crops were adversely affected by this year’s dry season as part of the Proudly T&T initiative which seeks to encourage greater food security.

Over the next five years, the TTMA plans to double manufacturing capability in TT while exploring increased trade to markets in the region through projects like June’s Expo Caribe 2019, which saw 23 local companies exhibiting in Cuba and the team copping three prizes at the event for promotional excellence. This performance, strong and promising for the large and medium manufacturing sector is heartening, but it doesn’t address the significant drop-off in such growth in the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector.

As it is structured now, the TTMA is designed to work with manufacturers that produce at significant scale and volume, but its outreach programmes can bring its significant resources and experience to smaller companies and start-ups that will be exploring today’s dynamic waters of business to find the future of trade for TT goods.

Too often the founding and growth of business in the SME sector is clouded by romance and emotion rather than the tough practicalities that such success demands. Moving a nascent business from the earliest stages of existence to maturity rarely happens by happenstance and needs coaching, support and education opportunities that acknowledge the nuanced differences of each business sector.

SMEs that are enjoying success often find themselves at the most fragile and critical stage of their development and are most desperately need of the kind of intervention that the experienced members of the TTMA are in an excellent position to share.

That’s an opportunity.

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