Former president of the T&T Manufacturers’ Association Franka Costelloe

In June last year the T&T Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) launched a five-year strategy to double non-energy exports of $3.6 billion in 2018 to $7 billion by 2025.

The three-phased strategy for 2020 was designed to stabilise, strengthen, and secure the sector.

“Phase One of the strategy will look at stabilising the domestic market, drawing from the initiatives that we had already outlined as critical to sustainability. We will bring forward those plans and work aggressively with our members, especially the SMEs, to get trade back to December 2019 level,” then TTMA president Franka Costelloe said as she launched the strategy.

“In Phase Two of the strategy implementation, we are looking at strengthening the base. We will recapture and recover our pre-COVID export market share through a virtual reconnect with buyers, leveraging technology to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Personal travel may be restricted but there is no restriction to the movement of goods and there is every opportunity for those who want to be first movers in the new digitised trading space,” she said.

“In Phase Three, we will refocus our attention on growing exports by targeting and securing new markets and connecting our members through B2B arrangements. Our objective is to grow exports in ways that reduce reliance on the public sector for foreign exchange, and foster diversification of the economy. Our long-term strategy is geared toward doubling our efforts in export by further penetration into existing markets while also securing new market opportunities,” Costelloe said.

However, due to the pandemic, 2020 exports continued to decline by six per cent from $3.5 billion in 2019 to $3.3 billion in 2020, according to the TTMA’s annual report for 2020.

“We turned to our Top 40 exporters who had the capacity to stabilise the non-energy export figure in 2021 due to emerging COVID-related opportunities across Caricom for products such as food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, packaging, garments, household cleaning products and PPE,” Costelloe said in her presidents message in the association’s annual report.

She noted that the TTMA also worked on market recovery in anticipation of the impact on trade from prolonged lockdowns globally.

“We determined that to strengthen the sector, we had to recalibrate our strategy by pushing new market entrants and by advancing initiatives for trade expansion through our SMEs.

With an estimated decline of 30 per cent in 2020 among new entries and 326 less exporters, it is imperative that we act decisively in the interest of SMEs to stimulate growth,” Costelloe stated.

Costelloe said exports are the most effective way to secure and grow the sector, and for 2021, the TTMA’s aim is to correct the downward export trend to realise a goal of $3.79–3.96 billion.

In 2020, the five manufacturing sectors that showed the most resilience were: Food & Beverage, Construction, Plastics, Paper & Packaging, Household Products (chemicals) and Tobacco.

The country’s top five trade partners in 2020 in terms of value were from CARICOM:Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, Suriname and Grenada.

Costelloe said the TTMA has always valued its CARICOM relationship.

“And in 2020, we solidified it,” she stated.

Costelloe stated that as chair of the Standing Committee, TTMA Director George Naime established the CARICOM Manufacturers’ Association with six member countries – namely Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, St. Lucia, Jamaica and T&T.

“Increasing exports requires trade facilitation for large exporters, targeting new markets, and following up on trade agreements with Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Panama and soon El Salvador and Chile. Market strength from New Entrants and SMEs will come by deepening relationships with Jamaica, Guyana, Grenada, and Suriname,” Costelloe stated.

Costelloe stated that the pandemic has significantly increased global demand for essentials.

“With our top three non-energy export industries in 2020 being Food and Beverage, Household Products and Construction, our members are well positioned to respond. Of 1,154 manufacturers, the top 20 exporters generate 80 per cent of Trinidad and Tobago’s non-energy export income, 18 are manufacturers of Food & Beverages,” she stated.

“We are therefore well positioned to capture and sustain this demand within the regional markets and to create a more secure trading space for the sector,” Costelloe stated.

Costelloe said it was fortunate that both the Global Competitive and Ease of Doing Business index stayed steady in 2020.

“With the renewed commitment by Government to hold agencies accountable to improving, we are focused on improving these indices by 15 per cent in 2021 through continued collaboration with EXIM Bank, Customs, the Chemistry, Food and Drugs Division, the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards, the Ports and our Police Service,” she said.

Costelloe explained that the TTMA’s strategy has been based on extensive research undertaken by EY and involved collecting and analysing data of Trinidad and Tobago’s existing export market for the previous year – 2018.

She said based on this the TTMA devised seven strategic pillars that are instrumental to our growth and expansion agenda.

These are:

1. Advocacy- which is about actively lobbying Government and public sector agencies to create an effective, enabling environment, where it is increasingly easy to do business in country.

2. Demand- where the TTMA will work assiduously to identify market opportunities regionally and internationally to expand our presence in existing markets.

3. Supply- aimed at developing the capacity of local suppliers and increase the efficiency of access to foreign inputs for the manufacturing sector.

4. Infrastructure- is about facilitating access to fit-for-purpose manufacturing infrastructure, including shared production and distribution mechanisms. “In identifying the industries in which we have a strong foothold, we can now create adequate and appropriate infrastructure for them to operate effectively,” Costelloe stated..

5. Labour- is a reality for all of us – individually and collectively. “The way we do business has changed and we need to invest in career training for the manufacturing sector, to establish a work-ready human resource pool of skilled, productive and motivated people,” she stated,

6. Technology/ Innovation- “If we didn’t know this in 2020, we certainly know now that technology is the key to staying in the game. Digitisation and continuous innovation will create advantage, keep us in step with global developments and position us to effectively respond to disruptive forces,” Costelloe stated.

7. Capital- is a reality for Government and the financial sector, as access to capital and financing is critical for manufacturing companies to achieve aggressive export growth.

“While the strategy designates the private sector as the influencer, it also recognises components that the Government must lead and influence. We have reviewed Government’s strategy for the sector and are pleased to see that we are aligned. It is for this reason that earlier this year, TTMA’s strategy was endorsed by the Ministry of Trade & Industry and appended to its Manufacturing Policy,” Costelloe stated.