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Profitable paradise

Interview - February 24, 2012
When thinking of Trinidad & Tobago, leisurely holidays on sun-kissed beaches come to mind – but the country also has solid industrial base and a diversified economy. Hon. Minister Stephen Cadiz, Minister of Trade and Industry, discusses his efforts to facilitate business, attract investment, and add value to his country’s exports

What needs to be communicated internationally about Trinidad & Tobago?

The world thinks of the Caribbean as a sea and sun tourist destination. Trinidad and Tobago is different to the other Caribbean countries as it’s a very industrialized nation. We have built quite a substantial energy-related business in Trinidad. Our oil industry is 100 years old, and Trinidad & Tobago is the second-oldest oil producer in the world. We are also a leading producer of methanol and ammonia and have huge LNG exports. On the other hand, Tobago’s economy is based on tourism and that’s the beauty of our country: the mixture of industrial base and Caribbean paradise.

Minister Dookeran mentioned T&T is undergoing a process of diversification of its economy. Could you comment on the efforts of the Ministry of Trade and Industry to promote the new “architecture of the economic space”?

Oil and gas represents 45% of our GDP but only employs 5% of our working population. The other 55% of our economy is based on manufacturing, services, and agro-processing industries.

Our target is to increase our manufacturing base and its contribution to the GDP; we are running at 63% of our capacity and we need to increase that rate by finding new markets outside of CARICOM, like Central America, the Spanish-speaking islands, and the EU.

We also aim to develop a knowledge-based economy to capitalize on our highly educated workforce and attract ICT companies to Trinidad & Tobago. Energy is less expensive here than in other countries and that is a major competitive advantage for us.

Another issues that the Government is also looking at are connectivity, the expansion of the banking sector and the amendment of some legislative frameworks.

You have just mentioned that expanding the manufacturing base is one of the priorities of your Minister. Could we consider T&T to be the manufacturing hub for the Americas?

Trinidad & Tobago is already the manufacturing hub for the Caribbean. We have some competitive advantages like our geographical location, with excellent connections to the rest of the world; our educated English-speaking workforce; our affordable energy rates; a legislative framework based on the British system; a strong economy and banking system; no restrictions on profit repatriation; our ILO accreditation and no ownership issues (you don’t need to partner with a local company).

T&T is a safeguard for international business. For example, in terms of trading agreements with North America, we have the CBI with the United States and we hope to conclude the Canada-Caricom trading agreement. 

T&T has been ranked as the third future destination for FDI in the Caribbean and Central America. What is the Government doing to fulfill these expectations and improve the business climate?

I come from the business sector. As a Minister, I like to use my experience to look at where the barriers are and how to remove them. I ask myself questions like “How long does it take to establish a business or buy a property?”

We look at all the different areas and see through the eyes of a foreign investor. If we are able to come into Trinidad & Tobago and set up a facility in a short period of time, we are increasing the attractiveness of our country. We are aiming to create a one-stop shop for investment and the Ministry is working hard to make it happen.

Infrastructure is one of the factors behind investment decisions. Could you comment on the current state of infrastructure of Trinidad & Tobago?

Infrastructure is made up of a number of factors: our physical infrastructure is very good; the power network is very efficient, and we have a 4G broadband connectivity. We are also working on innovations for our soft infrastructure, like the Single Electronic Window, that will make it easy to make electronic payments when dealing with the Government.

The US is T&T’s largest trade partner. What’s your opinion on the current situation of the US-T&T relationships?

The new Government has set a business-oriented approach in our foreign missions. It’s no longer just a Ministry or a Government department. We also run the Ministry of Trade and Industry along private sector lines as far as we can because we understand what business needs and we work towards satisfying their requirements.

All the Government’s departments are looking for FDI and the US is one of our main areas of interest. The relationship between our countries is excellent; we are looking for new opportunities to take advantage of the economy of the United States of America.

What would you consider to be the best opportunities for investment in Trinidad & Tobago?

We are looking at the downstream of the energy sector, especially from natural gas producers. For example, we are interested in creating a plastics industry in Trinidad & Tobago.

Our main priority is to add value to our raw materials by processing them in the islands. For example, Lake Asphalt currently exports raw asphalt and we would be looking to add value to that product.

Another token is the T&T cocoa, which is considered to be the world’s finest. Our cocoa industry is 250 years old but we have never produced chocolate here in a large scale. Rather than just selling a bean, we can add value to those beans and then export them!

You come from the private sector and became one of the main businessmen in the country before becoming Minister of Trade and Industry. How would you say your private sector background has helped you in your new role as Minister?

SC: Our role is to make sure that the Government is a facilitator and creates a regulatory framework to do business. I try to maximize efficiencies and the creation of value. That’s the direction that the Ministry has taken. The public-private partnerships are very important for us and we have an ongoing collaboration with the private sector.