EXPORTS are at record levels, the country's figures are great, and exciting new businesses abound in TT, effused Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, in her budget contribution on Tuesday in the House of Representatives.
She boasted of non-energy GDP up by 2.2 per cent, private sector credit up by 6.6 per cent, growth up by two per cent, and GDP per capita from US$15,000 to US$19,500 and heading to US$20,000 by year-end. Inflation is 5.09 per cent, reserves are US$6.8 billion and debt-to-GDP 70 per cent.
Amidst rising food prices locally and globally, Gopee-Scoon noted declines in the FAO food index from July to August for cereals, oils, dairy, meat and sugar.
Further, global freight costs will fall by 20-30 per cent, then rise slightly.
"It is the Government’s expectation that local importers and distributors of food will seek to pass on cost savings derived internationally to local consumers, as derived."
The Government had tried to help by zero-rating basic food items and suspending the CET, while supplying more foreign exchange to manufacturers and importers.
Boasting of "consumers buying local", she said over two years, imports fell of eggs (down 70 per cent), tomato sauce (down 30 per cent) and cereals (down 10 per cent).
Saying food security and fewer food imports were her top priorities, she boasted of 350 exhibitors, 52 business meetings and 79,000 visitors at the recent Agri Expo.
She said 20,000 SMEs employed 200,000 people and earned 30 per cent of TT's GDP. These had benefited from $4 billion in VAT refunds, plus loan and grant schemes. The Guaranteed Loan Programme for SME's worth $196 million has helped 900 businesses, the Long Term Loan Guarantee Scheme for SMEs is worth $500 million, the Grant Fund Facility has shared $5.25 million among 25 businesses (such as printing, cocoa processing, agro-processing, packaging making, fish processing, cosmetics, chemicals, software and financial services)
Gopee-Scoon hailed the SME Mentorship Programme, the SheTrades Hub serving 40,000 women, and the ScaleUpTT business accelerator programme for SMEs with yearly revenues of $2-30 million. She boasted of TT's healthy trade balance with the world, noting uptick from 2020-2021 to 2021-2022 of total exports from $46 billion to $72 billion.
This included energy exports up from $32 billion to $57 billion, with non-energy exports slightly up from $14.58 billion to $14.71 billion.
TT's trade surplus rose from $11 billion to $34 billion, mainly due to energy exports. She hailed high non-energy exports.
"Exports to Colombia grew an astounding 221 per cent from $624 million in 2019 to $2 billion in 2021." In that period, exports to the Dominican Republic grew by 46 per cent, from $375 million to $550 million. Similarly, exports to Costa Rica grew by 20 per cent, from $57 million to $69 million.
"Total output in manufacturing in 2022 is approximately $28.1 billion. Take that!"
Food and beverage output was its highest ever, she said, at $7.98 billion forecast this year, up by 19 per cent over last year.
"Huge congratulations to your local manufacturers small, medium and large. Also testimony to the population choosing to buy and consume quality locally-produced goods.
"While others make baseless comments that the economy is dead, the data reveals that there is buoyancy."
She hailed SMEs who invested and reinvested their finances and energies.
"The call is now for a more diversified product range, in the highest quality which will satisfy import substitution."
Gopee-Scoon saluted Nestle for recently launching a locally-made almond milk, for local consumption plus regional and extra-regional export.
She lauded improved non-energy exports: iron and steel ($5.5 billion), food and beverages ($2.7 billion), chemicals and fertiliser ($663 million), plastic/rubber ($615 million), and paper including toilet paper ($536 million.) The Government has helped exports by market intelligence, information seminars, trade missions, and commercial offices/attaches at TT's diplomatic missions.
Gopee-Scoon noted 300 trainees for the apprenticeship programme for the non-energy manufacturing sector and 50 training in woodwork.
The Exim Bank has US$980 million for manufacturers and importers, she said, with SME's so far getting US$395 million.
At the Moruga Agro-processing and Light Industrial Park, five companies with a $15 million investment could create 128 jobs, while two more might add 20 new jobs with a $5 million investment.
The Phoenix Park Industrial Estate has 78 leaseable lots targeting high-value light manufacturing, she said, saying the UNC had failed its promise to develop six economic zones. So far 11 investments totalling $316 million will create 796 jobs. "When fully operational we expect the Phoenix Park Industrial Estate to generate approximately 4,500 jobs."