Trade missions: Fuelling economic growth, boosting exports

Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon has led over 39 trade missions and trade shows across various regions, including the Caribbean, North America, Latin America and Africa. - File Photo
Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon has led over 39 trade missions and trade shows across various regions, including the Caribbean, North America, Latin America and Africa. - File Photo

Bavina Sookdeo

In response to the economic challenges posed by the covid19 pandemic, the government allocated $50 million in 2021 to stimulate and strengthen economic growth through overseas market development and export promotion.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), in collaboration with exporTT and the TT Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) subsequently launched the Export Booster Initiative (EBI).

This initiative aims to double the value of manufactured goods exports from $2.7 billion in 2019 to $5.4 billion by 2025 through a series of 16 initiatives grouped under three strategic areas: export promotion, capacity building and institutional strengthening.

Since the inception of EBI, the ministry has conducted approximately 39 trade missions and trade shows across various regions, including the Caribbean, North America, Latin America and Africa. These missions have taken place in countries such as Panama, Cuba, Jamaica, Curacao and US, among others.

In 2024, TT participated in seven trade missions and two trade shows, benefiting over 100 companies by providing opportunities to showcase their products, engage in business-to-business meetings and explore new business relationships.

According to information from the trade ministry, the conduct of trade missions and trade shows are vitally important to TT’s economic growth strategy, particularly in the Government’s drive toward developing the non-energy manufacturing sector and economic diversification.

"Trade missions and trade shows are tools that are employed by the MTI to assist exporters in gaining additional customers and business partners and to gain access to overseas markets," said the ministry. This often translates into increased demand, production and jobs in the non-energy sector. For this reason, trade missions and trade shows are part of MTI's export growth strategy under the export promotion pillar of the EBI.

Ismahieel Ali, trade mission co-ordinator with the Trade Unit at TTMA, also emphasised the significance of trade missions for its member companies.

"These trade missions are important to us as they push our membership (which is made up of larger companies and represents between 60-70 per cent of the export-related companies for non-energy products), giving them that platform to be able to find new markets and generate foreign exchange so they can purchase raw materials," Ali explained.

He added that the missions target specific markets with existing trade agreements and partnering with Caricom nations is a priority.

When questioned on how the success of trade missions and trade shows is measured, information from the ministry explained that the primary objective is to boost non-energy exports.

Success is determined by increased exports or exporters to the visited countries, securing new or additional orders and the inclusion of first-time exporters or new market entries.

These outcomes not only increase export values but also aid in diversifying the economy and help to reduce the country’s reliance on a few export markets.

"Since we have been doing the missions, about 20 to 25 companies (on average) have participated with us on each mission. The delegation usually comprises various sectors with the food and beverage being number one," Ali said.

"What we have seen is that sectors such as chemicals and printing/packaging have emerged over the last two or three years. There have been a lot of new and established companies taking that leap of faith to get into new markets.

"They have really been pushing the envelope. We have seen some true success stories from the various sectors, and they have been able to establish themselves within Caricom and develop trade some more."

TRADE MISSION TO BELIZE: Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, centre, surrounded by participants of the trade mission to Belize. The mission, led by MTI, was organised by TTMA, ExporTT and the National Export Facilitation Organisation, from January 30-February 3. It included 23 companies from the food and beverage, transportation and logistics, oil and gas, marketing and health services sectors. - Photo courtesy MTI

Export promotion

Four projects are currently being pursued to improve the internationalisation of the country’s manufacturing sector, including:

– Establishment of commercial officers and appointment of commercial attachés in the US, UK, Panama, Guyana and Jamaica to help unlock opportunities and support exporters in these markets.

– Conducting market surveys to identify opportunities and assist exporters in making decisions on market entry strategies.

– Attending trade missions and trade shows to help exports penetrate overseas markets.

– Providing in-market promotion support, which includes customised support to exporters to create brand awareness and recognition in overseas markets. This includes support to cover expenses related to in-store promotions, such as product sampling and social media promotions.

Capacity building

As the ministry continues to implement programmes and initiatives to increase the capacity of local manufacturers to produce price and quality-competitive products for export, the following are being undertaken:

– The International Certification Fund which assists manufacturers in obtaining international certification as proof of compliance with international standards needed to enter target markets.

– Labelling and product testing support which helps companies offset the cost of product testing, labelling, packaging and functionality to ensure that exported items meet statutory and legal requirements.

– The Tobago Capacity Building Programme which supports Tobagonian companies in addressing unique challenges faced in penetrating export markets.

TRADE MISSION TO GHANA: Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, centre, led a delegation from the private sector on a trade mission to Ghana from March 12-17. The mission included 21 local companies and representatives from TTMA, ExporTT, National Export Facilitation Organisation, THA, EximBank and Nedco. - Photo courtesy MTI

– The Export Accelerator Programme which offers assistance to companies with innovative products and international appeal, providing training, market research and development of export plans.

Inclusion of SMEs

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the engine of growth in developing countries. It is therefore important that targeted programmes be implemented to support the growth and development of SMEs. In this regard, the inclusion of SMEs in the EBI is ensured through the use of less stringent eligibility criteria. For instance, under the International Certification Fund, the requirements for SMEs are less demanding than those of a large company. SMEs with export sales of $1 million are eligible for up to $500,000 in support, whereas larger companies with export sales between $2 million and $4 million are only eligible for up to $250,000 in support. This tiered structure ensures greater accessibility for smaller businesses.

Strengthening public-private partnerships

The ministry plans to continue collaborating with the TTMA, TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce and exporTT in developing a schedule of upcoming trade shows and missions for the remainder of the year and into 2025. It also intends to further leverage the knowledge, experience and networks that the commercial officers and attachés based overseas have developed over the last year to assist in co-ordinating and conducting more impactful missions.

Airfare assistance grant and additional support

Asked to elaborate on its Airfare Assistance Grant and other forms of support provided to businesses participating in trade missions and trade shows, the ministry explained that the grant supports eligible businesses attending trade missions and shows by covering airfare costs up to $20,000 per fiscal year.

To qualify, applicants must be clients of a TT Business Support Organisation supported by exporTT for trade missions, employ 50 or fewer people, have annual sales under $10 million and be exporting or export-ready.

Additionally, the ministry provides support mechanisms to help businesses prepare for and maximise their participation in trade missions.

Through exporTT, companies are assessed to develop a company profile to match them with the most appropriate buyers and partners based on their export strategies and products.

Additionally, companies attending trade missions and shows often attend with promotional material and product samples.

Under the Co-Financing Facility administered by exporTT, support is provided to companies to cover up to 50 per cent of the cost of shipping these product samples and promotional material.

Targeting new markets

The ministry shared plans for targeting new markets, stating that there are three remaining trade missions and trade shows scheduled to be undertaken before the end of 2024.

Additionally, it is also in trade negotiations with Curacao and Chile for new trade agreements to help expand market access.

These agreements hold significant potential for increased trade and the ministry anticipates undertaking new trade missions to both countries to capitalise on these opportunities.

Promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth

To ensure that trade missions promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth, the ministry intends to launch a Green Manufacturing Initiative.

The initiative will provide local companies with funding to adopt and improve green manufacturing practices geared towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint to ensure a greener and more sustainable future. This will include funding for improving energy efficiency and training staff in green manufacturing.

In support of greater inclusivity, the MTI provides financial support to female entrepreneurs through the SheTrades Initiative.

Since the launch of its local hub, more than 24 female entrepreneurs have received funding to date to attend trade shows in countries such as Madrid, St Lucia and Barbados while 66 women-owned businesses have also benefitted from funding to participate at local trade shows and markets.

Future plans

Looking beyond 2024, the ministry aims to establish a new TT Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, which will merge existing entities like exporTT, InvesTT, CreativeTT and relevant trade/investment functions from TTCSI into one central organisation. This streamlined agency will optimise the country’s export and investment promotion efforts.

Additionally, a new national trade strategy 2024-2029 will be developed, focusing on increasing productivity, promoting investment and overseas market penetration.

The MTI also plans to continuously improve the Trade and Business Information Portal to provide ongoing assistance to companies with up-to-date, step-by-step regulatory guidelines across the entire spectrum of trade and business.

The portal aims to eliminate the need for users to visit multiple websites or conduct in-person visits to various government offices to obtain information and forms to comply with regulatory requirements.


"Trade missions: Fuelling economic growth, boosting exports"

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