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Earning, not spending US $ is the challenge

Published: 
Sunday, February 4, 2018

There is a view circulating and gaining currency that the primary, perhaps only responsibility of the national private sector, is to trade on the foreign exchange rents earned by the energy sector; and that is if the Government allows that to happen.

In that view, little or no responsibility is assigned to the private sector to become involved in the effort to spread the base of the economy to at least reduce the centuries old dependence on one crop, be it raw sugar, or oil, or natural gas.

From my perspective, that is a fundamentally flawed position, one that is mired in the 19th and 20th century colonial model in which the local private sector consisted of agents of the manufacturing economy of the United Kingdom, and T&T and the Caribbean, consumers of the products of the Metropole.

A nationally-minded and domiciled private sector must appreciate the fact through hard experience of being an integral part of the T&T society, that such an economy and society, open and vulnerable to international commodity price movements, has been and will continue to be plunged into a state of economic and social disaster when the international price market changes and, as in the present, when that is accompanied by a decline in natural resources being brought to the surface–“the new norm”.

Surely a national private sector should become aware of and so sensitive to the need for developing an indigenous production base, both in the energy and non-energy sectors, and in a range of services to be able to successfully take on the economic and social challenges of the 21st century.

Indeed, a few local corporations and manufacturers have become successful in producing for the Caricom market and beyond.

The challenge is to seed and nurture the needed enterprise and innovation among a wider production community to take the effort into the world beyond the Caribbean Sea. In this respect, the Caricom Secretariat and the Regional Negotiating Machinery have negotiated trade agreements which give some measure of preference to Caricom exporters in markets in parts of Central and South America.

I am not sufficiently aware as to whether those opportunities have been fully exploited, and what have been the problems experienced in the efforts made.

None of the above, however, absolves the Government from giving strategic support to facilitate the emergence of a dynamic private sector. A range of directed fiscal incentives, the clearing away of bureaucracy from the path of exporters, use of the Foreign Service for intelligence and contacts for local producers being also amongst the measures the private sector usually calls for.

Inevitably though, it is dynamic entrepreneurship, innovation, far-sighted and risk-taking business leaders supported by government infrastructure, that will lead the way. That is the story of the industrial world, Asian countries led originally by Japan, and now including China, India and the Newly- Industrialised Countries inclusive of South Korea, Taiwan etc.

Encouragingly, President of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce Ronald Hinds says the need has been recognised by the Chamber to move to a new world of entrepreneurship and production and to extend that vision beyond its membership. To that effect the chamber has been hosting discussion fora to attract the attention of the business community and those wanting to enter.

Likewise, it is absolutely needed for the labour movement to find itself on stage, and not merely shout from the sidelines. I experienced a trade union protest in Seoul, South Korea, at past eight one evening. As to why that time, my guide said the unions did not want to affect daytime production.

Over the last 12 to 18 months, I have written two or three columns on the need for industrial peace; one way of achieving it is through the assembly of the tripartite forum.

To be continued.

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