The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is looking at the potential of raising the levels of exports on the island.
THA Deputy Chief Secretary and Secretary of Finance and the Economy Joel Jack disclosed this on Tuesday at a webinar hosted by the Minister of Trade and Industry. It focused on the programmes and initiatives available to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to help grow businesses and build export capacity.
Jack said while data on Tobago exports is unavailable, in the past, one of the island’s main exports was flying fish. However, that industry ended because of challenges.
He said of the fledgling entrepreneurs who receive support from the assembly via the Enterprise Assistance Loan Programme, most are now graduating and exporting a number of products.
“One of the main avenues that we’ve seen that would have assisted us in this regard would have been their participation at TIC (Trade and Investment Conference) over the years, and that as well is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Trade and our association.
He also mentioned a series of export-related training programmes, again facilitated by the Ministry of Trade in collaboration with ExporTT, and a number of areas like agro-processing, naming Tobago Chocolate (Delights); Duane Dove of the Tobago Cocoa Estates; Ted Arthur, who is now exporting leather goods abroad; we have light manufacturing, such as that of Ted Jones of JMac Industries; people in the tourism sector "and those persons who in the media, they are also exporting their products.”
Dove's Tobago Cocoa Estate's Chocolate Laura won silver at the 2020 European Bean-to-Bar International Chocolate Awards in the plain/origin milk chocolate bar category. The Tobago Cocoa Estate sells chocolates mainly in the US, France and Denmark, but products are now reaching Australia and New Zealand.
Jack said the assembly invested in 2009 with the formation and rollout of the Enterprise Assistance Fund under his division. Since then, the island has seen a number of businesses exporting their products abroad.
He said the assembly continues to provide the necessary support in collaboration with the Ministry of Trade and Export TT. Jack has led several trade missions to the US and the Division of Finance has also supported several missions to the UK to get Tobago’s products to the international market.
He said through the Ministry of Trade, the assembly has also collaborated on several overseas missions to Cuba, the US and other markets, and the fruits of these investments are now being seen.
“We’re really on the cusp of a number of our products penetrating international markets. The Cuba trade mission was one example where our collaboration bore fruit and again, we continue to work with the Ministry of Trade in this regard.
“Additionally, through the Tobago Venture Capital Equity Fund Ltd, we continue to invest in a number of businesses that are also in the tourism sector, agro-processing and light manufacturing. These businesses, in the next three to five years...would be holding their own, not only in the Trinidad market but also in the region and international market.”
Jack said the assembly has also sat around the table for trade negotiations where Tobago stakeholders, the division and related sectors made inputs in terms of shaping the national trade policy and informing trade negotiations.
“We in Tobago continue to play our part in the national economic diversification thrust, not just in the tourism sector, but in other sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing. We are also expanding our ICT (information and communications technology) sector and playing our role in the government’s digitisation process, and using ICT as an enabler of socio-economic development.”
Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon said the webinar was aimed at building awareness of the many programmes and initiatives available to businesses, which she said would help grow exports. She said recent statistics on the performance of TT's non-energy exports show a fairly robust non-energy exports sector.
Over the last five years, she said, TT's average annual non-energy exports totalled $13.6 billion, representing approximately 21 per cent of total exports, adding that in 2019 there were 184 non-energy exporters, outside the manufacturing sector, whose export earnings were just about $1 million.
“Over 55 per cent of these exporters, about 102 of them, are SMEs and over 85 per cent of our non-energy exports, valued at $11.2 billion, are in manufacturing. In 2019, TT non-energy manufacturing exports reached over 120 markets spanning most regions of the world including North, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, as well as Asia and Africa. These statistics demonstrate the opportunities and the benefits to be deprived from SMEs opening their horizons beyond the domestic market,” she said.
She added: “As we forge ahead to rebuild our economy and make it more resilient in the face of possible future shocks, let me reaffirm the government’s commitment to lay the foundation for sustainably and raising the profiles and potentials of the domestic manufacturing sector. In this regard, the government is committed to improving the business environment, enhancing access to finance, building capacity of manufacturers and promoting locally-grown products on the international market.”
Other presenters included chairman of ExporTT Ashmeer Mohamed and president of the TTT Manufacturers’ Association Franka Costelloe. Additionally, four of the MTI’s latest Grant Fund Facility recipients spoke briefly about their operations and how the Grant Fund Facility will be used to benefit their businesses.