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T&T Chamber CEO: Export-led businesses vital for T&T economy

With a high food import bill and less foreign exchange in the economy, businesses that export are becoming more important said Gabriel Faria, CEO, T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

“Our food import bill stands in excess of $4 billion which includes a wide array of fresh agricultural produce as well as inputs for our agro processing operations. The reality is in 2016 and 2017 the T&T economy lost $18 billion in foreign exchange due to lower energy prices combined with low production. Businesses that earn foreign exchange through export have become critical to our economy.”

Faria spoke yesterday at a seminar entitled “Insights into Agriculture and Agro-Processing Industry” at the Chamber’s office, Westmoorings.

According to statistics Faria provided, agriculture’s contribution remains very small.

“While there has been talk for years on the issue of food security and reinvigorating agriculture, these conversations have not translated into action. Presently, agriculture contributes to a mere 0.4 percent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Incentives and financing are available at various stages of the value chain, ranging from land use to production processing.”

Given the “new normal” in the economy, he said that it is important to explore every business opportunity in every sector of the economy.

“We want those outside the sector to recognize that agriculture and agro-processing is an exciting revenue for investment to diversify your portfolio and expand your business.”

Dr. Ronald Ramkissoon who was the moderator for a panel discussion during the seminar, spoke of having the right exchange rate to make the agriculture sector more competitive.

“We have the situation where if it is that I am a farmer, I cannot compete with the imported products and it is simply because of the price, which is related to the import price, which is related to the exchange rate. On the other side if we want to export, are the incentives for exporting sufficient to push us to export? You will get six something, seven something dollars for your one US dollars for exports as opposed to something higher that you can get. Are there things in the wider economy that are preventing agriculture from growing?”

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