The Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI) welcomes the Budget Statement delivered by the Minister of Finance today. In particular, we note several elements of relevance to the services sector in Trinidad and Tobago, which we have the honour to represent.
Philosophically, we share the commitment to Government acting as a facilitator to the entrepreneurship that should emanate from the private sector in this country. Furthermore, we consider of great value the commitment to the growth of the small business sector. In this regard, we note that most of the small businesses in Trinidad and Tobago are to be found in the services sector. Finally, we note that there has been some emphasis on diversification of the economy and suggest that this is in keeping with TTCSI’s own mission on behalf of its membership to make the services sector the primary vehicle for the sustainable development of the economy of Trinidad and Tobago. If diversification is to occur, it will be with the active involvement of the services sector in Trinidad and Tobago.
Although there has been little mention of the services sector as a whole, measures have been proposed that will respond to some of the interests of organizations at work in the services sector. We note, for example, the following:
– the general measures to improve the business environment and arrest the decline in competitiveness of the Trinidad and Tobago economy
– the increase in the Arts and Culture Tax Allowance that we hope will encourage the private sector to invest in this critical sector
– the promotion of the free zones regime which has been underused by the services sector in the past
– the incentive to the Fashion Industry that has great potential export value
– the promotion of the energy services sector that has already begun through the efforts of The Energy Chamber to explore new markets
– the support for increased activity in the area of alternative energy and energy audits that should open up new opportunities for service delivery
– the expansion of the Research and Development Facility of the Business Development Company and the Innovation Financing Facility, areas in which the TTCSI has been active and continues to place emphasis in the future
– the divestment initiative that should give new impetus to the securities sector
– the expansion in activities relating to tourism such as the Sugar Heritage Village, the East Port of Spain initiative, the support for sport tourism and the stated commitment to consider provision of guaranteed seats to support increased uplift of passengers to Trinidad and Tobago.
– The support for the proposals of the Artists Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago
– The commitment to settle some of the debt owed to the contracting sector.
The TTCSI considers itself to be a natural partner in the implementation of the Government’s diversification initiative. The service sector already represents about 55% of the GDP of the country and is, by far, the largest employer in the country. Statistics on exporting are not reliable for a number of internal and external reasons but it is clear that the sector should be a more significant contributor to export earnings for the country than the currently estimated level of 10-15% of total exports.
Having said that we would hope to see in the presentations to come, particularly that of the Minister of Trade and Industry a commitment to work with industry stakeholders toward:
· a strong domestic regulatory framework with modern rules to both guide the practice of service providers and provide protection to the consumer. Studies have also shown that such a framework also provides comfort to prospective foreign purchasers of services;
· provision of appropriate incentives to services sectors. While some specific differentiation depending on the sector concerned could be appropriate, the simplest and most efficient approach could be to provide broad, generally available support that could be appropriate or adaptable for the sector as a whole
· targeted support for service providers who wish to attain certification which makes them internationally competitive
· Development of a policy framework for services exporting, including the identification of public sector support for exporting activity, markets of particular interest, priorities within the markets, institutional support domestically and in international markets.
Overall, the TTCSI considers that this Budget presentation has begun the process of laying the foundation for growth of the services sector and, by extension, the diversification in a sustainable manner of the economy of Trinidad and Tobago. Certainly, there is considerable much that remains to be done.
There must be more consultation with existing sector organizations as specific steps are taken to flesh out some of these broad initiatives and to ensure that the correct way forward is implemented in cooperation with industry stakeholders. Furthermore, we expect that both the Economic Restructuring Board and the Competitiveness and Innovation Council will comprise representatives from the largest private sector constituency in Trinidad and Tobago and the largest services sector in the Caribbean.