In relation to the then growing covid19 crisis, on a January 22 CNBC broadcast, US President Donald Trump was quoted as saying, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China.” By March 13, a little over six weeks later, Trump and his administration, caught on the back foot, were pressed to declare a national emergency in the United States. This measure was necessary as New York City and a number of other major US cities were struggling to grapple with the daily upsurge in covid19 cases bearing down on a health system, woefully unprepared for the heavy hand of a raging global pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a pandemic simply as, “the worldwide spread of a new disease.” Specific to a coronavirus, like that of covid19, WHO stated, “an influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges and spreads around the world, and most people do not have immunity.” The truth of the matter is, the world is not immune to the non-health related effects caused by this global pandemic. Commerce, trade, finance, banking, logistics and the manner in which markets work and function have been impacted and, are forever altered. These implications, though global, affect our lives in a very tangible manner. Trinidad and Tobago has been almost forced into a postmodern era of labour resource allocation and manpower management the likes of which we have never seen before on a national level. An economy stripped to its bare essentials and pressured to adapt to a new normal now and a brave new world to come. With only the most essential of service providers being allowed to venture into physical workspaces or operate outdoors, many companies and operations, ready or not, have been firmly shoved into the future. Tethered to these sudden changes are questions many business will have to address. The level of sobriety and degree of efficiency with which these questions and concerns are addressed, may well mean survival, irrelevance or replacement by a more malleable local or foreign enterprise.
With eyes fixed on trade and export markets, what are some of the new challenges that are arresting the attention of TT’s exporting firms, business sectors, business associations and policymakers in the short to medium term? Speaking directly to this issue, World Trade Centre (WTO) director general Roberto Azevêdo, via the WTO’s official website said, “WTO economists believe the decline will likely exceed the trade slump brought on by the global financial crisis of 2008-09.”
Azevêdo went on to say, “The immediate goal is to bring the pandemic under control and mitigate the economic damage to people, companies and countries. Policymakers must start planning for the aftermath of the pandemic. A rapid, vigorous rebound is possible. Decisions taken now will determine the future shape of the recovery and global growth prospects. We need to lay the foundations for a strong, sustained and socially inclusive recovery. Trade will be an important ingredient here.”
Value chain disruption was one of the initial issues arising from covid19. Within the Caribbean Community (Caricom), trade will be most negatively impacted, in sectors characterised by complex value chain linkages or production processes that require a degree of logistical gymnastics. Layered upon this is the impact of social distancing, now crippling the operations of a number of business sectors presently deemed non-essential based on current national policy. The TT government’s present position on closing our national borders with a measured approach toward reopening them will impact export managers and representatives. Many will be unable to plan visits to foreign markets, trade shows or meet with foreign businesses or client interests, in the immediate term (for the foreseeable future). In view of this apparent monolithic situation, it is useful to recall that managing minor to pandemic level disruption is a challenge that equally affects global, regional and local enterprises. The inevitable question begs, “What are some of the most practical and fundamental steps an exporter can take to begin to adapt their operations going forward?”
In the wake of an economy and business environment permanently altered by the global pandemic, one of the best responses can be gleaned from the words of former US president Benjamin Franklin. He famously stated, “For the best return on your money, pour your purse into your head.” In spite of the dirge and lamented chorus harmonies on global trade prospects and export figures by some pundits, respite may present itself to those who are willing to pour their “purses into their heads.” Retooling, retraining and refocusing of export agendas and resources are an absolute must. There are a number of local and international resources including exporTT’s training unit designed to assist TT’s businesses with key aspects of creating a robust and adaptable export programme. The aim ultimately will be to arrive at a management decision that focuses on trade and export solutions understanding that this pandemic can lead to a burdensome, slow demise or an opportunity to ride the winds of change. Additionally, exporting operations will have to more greatly embrace the role of internet communication technology (ICT) as a medium for opportunity, business continuity and operational efficiency. Many companies have been integrating WEBEX, Google meetings, Zoom and a number of other applications that are allowing critical business meetings and business development work to take place. These applications could be an important component to/of your business’ ICT architecture as we seek to win despite this crippling viral epidemic. In a nutshell, manufacturers and service providers, will need to be at the epicentre of the ICT cultural shift and begin to reframe the discussion around trade and exporting. At exporTT we aim to support our clients and these sectors by advancing the discussion and being optimistic about the future of trade and exports.
Josep Borrell, European Union Minister of Foreign Affairs via the European Union’s website stated, “Covid19 will reshape the world. We don’t yet know when the crisis will end. We can be sure by the time it is done, our world will look very different.” We do know that TT’s exporting community is facing an unprecedented situation.
(Content courtesy exporTT www.exportt.co.tt)