Despite the deleterious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the manufacturing sector, Minister of Trade and Industry (MTI) Paula Gopee-Scoon says the export market is rebounding to its 2019 performance.
As she spoke to journalists while touring Kamri Glass Ltd’s tempered glass showroom in Marabella, Gopee-Scoon said that the export market has been “pretty good” over the last 18 months. While she intends to speak more about it in the upcoming national budget debate in Parliament, Gopee-Scoon said the export of non-energy products is increasing. It has crossed the average $750 million to $900-$1 billion in exports per month.
“We had some dips, naturally on account of COVID-19, and there was a particular time when we had gone down to just over $300 million in non-energy exports. I am talking non-energy exports when, traditionally, we would be, on average, around $750 million,” Gopee-Scoon said.
While some sub-sectors of manufacturing had to close because of the government’s public health measures, food and beverage producers continued to operate. However, the demand for products from T&T waned around April and May 2020 and the earlier months in 2021 as the pandemic slowed global economies, especially, as most of the Caribbean markets comprise tourism-based economies.
Gopee-Scoon said manufacturers found new markets for their products, which are doing well. She said Nu-Iron Unlimited, which produces Direct Reduced Iron, has considerably increased its exports to its parent company, the Nucor Corporation, based in the United States of America.
Angostura Bitters is one of some food and beverage manufacturers that improved, with this sub-sector making inroads in Panama and other Central American countries. She added that she saw an increase in the export of mattresses.
“While the end of financial year export figures, you would not see the substantial increase; you would see the levelling off. What I am predicting is that at the end-of-year 2021, export figures are going to mirror, pretty much, your 2019. That is despite the falling off of some exports in some particular countries.”
Gopee-Scoon congratulated Kamri Glass for its venture into the export market and the significant capital invested in expansion. The company entered the tempered glass business in 2016 and now has the only tempered glass furnace in the Caribbean. In 2018, it began manufacturing Unplasticised Polyvinyl Chloride (UPVC) windows. It also manufactures laminate safety glass. The company exports to Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados, among other Caribbean islands. The company is now researching the manufacturing of solar panels for residential and commercial use.
Kameel Khan, the owner, said the company would target residential customers at first as this is the larger market. Khan said that as a local manufacturer, the panels would be affordable. He said it would help to reduce customers’ power bills.
“Solar panel is going to be used for lighting. Most of the time, you have a home, a lot of lights are on, not just water heaters. We are targeting making affordable lighting solutions and electronics, television, refrigerator. That type of power capacity could be a great asset if the energy is coming from solar,” Khan said.
The company already has a prototype and is working out the fine details and quality testing before submitting the panels for certification. Gopee-Scoon said the government is willing to support this plan with incentives. She said the government has its thrust to ensure T&T goes green in keeping with its global environmental commitments. She said MTI’s export booster programme has a facility for supporting the research and development of green products, and the company can apply for funding.
Manufacturing Association (TTMA) president Tricia Coosal said solar power technology was something the Association looks forward to seeing. Coosal said the TTMA was also happy with the number of export destinations for Kamri Glass’ products and its push for expansion. She said this aligns with the Association’s goal to double exports in the next five years.
“As we all know, being green, being self-conscious, in terms of the impact of the environment, is something that we look at very closely. We are pleased to be seeing them going in that direction,” Coosal said.