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TT-Panama trade pact Convergence at work

By Vernon Khelawan Thursday, October 3 2013

click on pic to zoom in

WHEN Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran signs the Partial Scope Agreement (PSTA) tomorrow (Friday) in Panama City together with his counterpart the Panamanian Foreign Minister, it represented more than just another signed trade agreement.

It was Caribbean Convergence in action; the furtherance of the philosophy of Caribbean Convergence, which Minister Dookeran has been advocating at many high level forums in the Caribbean, Central and South America over the past year and which is slowly gaining acceptance in several influential groupings in the region.

And while this is in reality a trade pact, which would promote the expansion of trade in goods between both countries and allow Trinidad and Tobago manufacturers to benefit from preferential access to the Panamanian market, Minister Dookeran told Business Day, it must be looked at “in the context of convergence”.

The Trinidad and Tobago – Panama PSTA, which was certified by the Caricom Secretariat earlier this year, is an important step in the development of convergence since a similar agreement with Guatemala is nearing finalisation and negotiations for a third with El Salvador are about to begin.

Agreement was reached after months of tough negotiations as both countries, recognising the need to expand their domestic markets through economic integration was a vital prerequisite for accelerating their processes of economic development, and driven as well by the desire to promote mutually beneficial bilateral trade in goods and services.

Tomorrow’s signing of the PSTA signals will allow preferential rates for more than 200 products from this country to enter the Panamanian market and a similar number of Panamanian products to become available in the Trinidad and Tobago market.

Local products that will enjoy the preferential rates include peanut butter, “tetra pak” containers, waste bins, disposable spoons and forks, female napkins, bitumen, aerated water, building blocks and doors and windows. Additionally, local manufacturers would benefit from reduced tariffs on a selected number of goods such as citrus fruits, aerated waters, aromatic bitters and petroleum products.

In addition to the historic signing ceremony, which would be witnessed by both Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her Panamanian counterpart, President Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal, high powered delegation would be in Panama City to attend the two-day VII Americas Competitiveness Forum (ACF), which began yesterday (WED) at the Westin, Playa Bonita.

Objectives of the forum are to facilitate business development and the exchange of ideas and knowledge on the topics of productivity, innovation and competitiveness in Latin America and the Caribbean and to provide a platform for dialogue on ways to enhance the Region’s competitiveness in the current economic climate – two of the areas which would define the need for Caribbean convergence.

Some of the discussions at the Forum would centre around existing macro-economic challenges, infrastructure and education, development of sustainable cities, innovations and connectivity for development and the Panama Canal expansion.

Minister of Planning, Sustainable Development, Senator Bhoendratt Tewarie is leading the Trinidad and Tobago delegation to the ACF Forum. The next ACF will be in Port-of-Spain in October 2014. He is accompanied by representatives from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment and representatives of ExporTT Limited.

The ACF Forum brings together more than 1000 leaders from over 34 nations in the Americas, including Heads of State, Members of Cabinet, business executives, trade delegates, representatives from the world of academia and representatives from the region’s public and private Competitiveness Councils, Non- Governmental and International Organisations.

To emphasise Trinidad and Tobago’s capacity in its manufacturing sector, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment, through its export facilitation organisation (ExporTT Limited) took the lead in setting up a display of locally manufactured products which have export potential. Some of the local manufacturers who would have display booths include Associated Brands, National Canners, Chief Brand Products, KC Confectionery, Blue Waters, Penta Paints, Sanitainers Limited, Rotoplastics, TYE Manufacturing, Chemtrax and Electrical Industries Limited (EIL)/Century Eslon.

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