By Vashti Guyadeen, CEO, TTCSI
As Trinidad and Tobago continues on its transition to an evidence based, knowledge driven economy, the country has to redefine its rules and parameters for success in the international market.
Given the fall in energy prices and the challenges of the global pandemic, there is no better time than now for this country to focus on building businesses that are globally competitive and that are positioned to take advantage of market access opportunities.
In this article, data from the National Services Exporters Services 2020 is presented to build the case for a robust strategy to build the export capacity of energy professionals so that they could expand their reach internationally thereby earning valuable foreign exchange for the country.
There is no better time than now for energy services providers to go regional and global!
Presently, the services sector of Trinidad and Tobago represents more than 60% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and over 65% of total employment in Trinidad and Tobago.
In spite of this significant contribution, there is a dearth of statistical information with regard to exports, particularly in terms of volumes, modes of exports and markets.
More importantly, little is known about the challenges exporters face during the process of exporting their services to international companies.
The contract to undertake the survey was awarded to the University of the West Indies – Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business (UWI- ALJGSB) in April 2019.
This survey of exporters is intended to shed light on key issues related to the export of services in Trinidad and Tobago, focusing on the following key aspects, modes of exports, geographic spread, trade flows and challenges stakeholders experience in the process of exporting services.
In the first stage the survey focused on six targeted sectors – Business and Professional, Creative, Education, Energy, Tourism, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) services.
It is our intention that the survey results will be used to identify opportunities for institutional strengthening with strategic and policy related implications at both the private and public sector levels, as well as the development of policy for the services sector.
The study’s key recommendations which follow are two-fold: they address current limitations experienced by the services sector and are also poised to take advantage of new export opportunities on the horizon.
Marketing and promotion
There is an urgent need to develop a market growth strategy for the local services sector. Given the current economic adversities being experienced within the country’s services portfolio, it is recommended that Trinidad and Tobago adopt a stronger market penetration strategy in its current source markets and engage in market development.
Market penetration initiatives can include:
1. Market intelligence research
2. Branding the ‘local services hub’
3. Awareness campaigns and promotion
4. Promotion of e-commerce practices
Market intelligence research
Marketplace intelligence and insights for the local services sector can be disseminated through interactive online platforms and mini conferences and seminars, with focus on peer-topeer sharing of market opportunities, matchmaking/meet the buyer events, innovation forums, study tours, and trade shows and exhibitions. This could also feed into creation of the ‘local services hub.’
Branding the ‘local services hub’:
Although Trinidad and Tobago has a wide range of service industries, a ‘local services hub’ branding strategy does not currently exist.
Such a strategy should be designed to increase Trinidad and Tobago’s services market share in existing export markets as well as explore new markets.
A significant local brand can justify where the hub is located and act as the ‘go to’ place for activities.
The overall objective of this initiative is to position, brand, market and promote Trinidad and Tobago as a services hub globally. Activities which can support its development include the creation of a local services cluster development portal, inward/outward trade missions and proactive media engagement.
A network of local service firms should also be established as this will enable businesses to become globalised quickly through shared expertise and opportunities.
This network can act as a local advisor on international markets, develop market entry strategies, organise trade workshops and provide in-depth market reports.
It can also facilitate the exchange of experiences and knowledge of international markets by encouraging dialogue between service companies, governments and technology suppliers on the e-commerce side.
The high cost of exporting has been a major challenge for both exporters and non-exporters in the local services sector and as a result firms could use this ‘local services hub’ to engage in joint marketing efforts such as branding, market research, and bundling of services which would help reduce export costs.
Awareness campaigns and promotion
Educational awareness campaigns should be developed to highlight the importance of these joint initiatives, projects and programmes aimed at export cost reduction. For instance, based on the National Services Exporters Survey report, a lack of awareness exists among nonexporters on how to apply Free Trade Agreements to their operations. In addition, exporters are unaware of the types of support available through various local and regional agencies or where they can access further information and resources.
Hence a simple tool such as a list that identifies agencies involved in the export process along with their roles and responsibilities should be developed and disseminated to all local service businesses Complementing this should be increased information export sessions where these organisations can share further details about the support services they provide.
Promotion of e-commerce practices
The overall marketing promotion strategy should be expanded to include development of multiple integrated sales channels. Special emphasis should be placed on the use of new digital media such as social media, mobile applications and online advertising.
A clear, consistent and compelling message which drives demand to the local services sector should be delivered through all channels.
Institutional strengthening as a priority should aim to foster Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements between industry, industry associations and state agencies.
Associations and agencies should work closely with firms to develop initiatives that encourage greater collaboration such as joint branding, promotion and cost reduction.
The national services exporters’ registry could also be leveraged to support one-to-one matchmaking and networking among service exporters, potential investors and support agencies.
Capacity Training Training for non-exporters
Programmes which train nonexporters on the basic exporting process, “Where to start”, should be developed and implemented with urgency.
Business incubator programmes (emerging exporters)
A market readiness incubator programme should be designed to target emerging local service exporters with strong value propositions but little or no export experience.
This programme should train emerging exporters on the business and marketplace skills and knowledge needed to export.
This training could further be supported by the creation of business plans, and updating of value propositions and cluster and business diagnostics to assess market potential.
Market readiness accelerator programmes (established mature exporters)
A market readiness accelerator programme targeting firms with significant export experience should also be developed. These activities could cover: market incursions, tailored business coaching/mentoring as well as enterprise and product upgrading assistance.
The National Services Exporters Survey 2020 now fully equips the private sector, government stakeholders and policy makers with bespoke information to make data driven decisions regarding implementation of these recommendations which are aimed at improving the competitiveness of the national services sector.
The recommendations not only support government’s efforts to develop a diversified sustainable economy while supporting exportled growth of service industries but they also support the wider regional services mandate.
Vashti G Guyadeen ● Chief Executive Officer, Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries and former Senior Energy Advisor, Ministry of Energy and Editor, Trinidad and Tobago’s Centennial Energy Digest, 2010 (A publication of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce)