The manufacturing industry has already established itself as one of the key contributors to TT’s economy, accounting for close to ten per cent of the nation’s GDP, according to some economic gurus.
But, with demands of the nation consistently increasing, and with the changes in the energy sector augmenting the way the nation thinks of earning revenue, the need for the non-energy manufacturing sector to step up its game has become obvious, especially to the TT Manufacturing Association (TTMA).
That is why, come November, the TTMA will be rolling out its five-year manufacturing plan with the goal of doubling the revenue garnered from exporting manufactured goods, which already stands at $8 billion.
TTMA president Franka Costelloe told Business Day recently, in an interview at the association's offices in Barataria, developing the strategy involves serious consultation with stakeholders in the public sector as well as the private sector, especially among its 509 members, which sought to determine what the private sector can do to achieve this goal.
“Everyone talks about what the government should do to death,” Costelloe said, “But what can we do as a community to change or influence our environment that is going to get us to the end goal of doubling the export?”
While the plan is still in draft form and is being kept under wraps until November, Costelloe said the plan to double exports will involve increasing production capacity, earning foreign exchange, earning new markets and getting new technology to facilitate all those goals.
Costelloe said the strategy is designed along the lines of five pillars – improving access to raw materials, increasing access to funding, widening the labour market, increasing physical space, and opening the markets and gaining further access to products.
Where raw materials are concerned, Costelloe said TT has to put itself first. She said there will still be a need to import raw materials as production increases, but the availability of local raw materials is paramount to achieving the goals set in the five-year strategy.
“That’s manufacturing as well – making raw materials that is upstream to it. So like with agro-processing, we want agriculture to expand.”
There is, however, a balancing act to be performed to ensure the needs of both the private and public sectors are met while trying to achieve this goal. For example, meeting the goal of increasing access to raw materials will require land space, something government also needs for affordable housing.
“That is why our plans and consultation are part private and part government,” Costelloe said. “We, as the private sector, have to make the demands on the government on what we will and will not accept. We also have to give them ideas of what we will do. So if we tell the government that we don’t want you to do low-income housing on this land because we want to do agriculture because we want to employ 200 people, then it is on the government to say yes or no to that. But we have to lobby for it first.
“The change that the country needs is not on the government alone: we have to take as much responsibility as they do if these changes are to be made."
Ultimately, she said, the TTMA intends to take the nation to a point where it no longer has to depend on external factors, like the price of a barrel of oil, to manage its economic fortunes.
“We need to excite change and transformation. We need to take ownership of our environment. That is why this manufacturing strategy is so important,” Costelloe said.