|Alcazar calls for push to exports |
VERNE BURNETT Thursday, March 16 2017
Admitting that it is a difficult time to take over the mantle of President of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association (TTMA), Christopher Alcazar, who was elected on March 9, 2017 at the body’s 61st Annual General Meeting, said he is solution driven and will lead the organisation with a heavy amount of engagement and collaboration with the membership and stakeholders whether Government or different agencies.
He said his passion for manufacturing will also help him to bring the right people together to make things happen “and I think that that is desperately what we need both as an organisation and as companies and as a Government and as a country.” He said he thought this was the single most important thing he could bring to the organisation.
Alcazar said he also wanted to engage the country’s youth and do something for primary and secondary school students to convert them into the next set of innovators, entrepreneurs and manufacturers.
He said that the last eighteen months had seen the country’s manufacturers put their foot on the gas in terms of the push to exports. He noted that local demand might be softening a little but the factories need to keep going and that a lot of the inputs in the manufacturing process are imported.
“We need that foreign exchange to be able to get the inputs and keep the factories going and the single best way to do that is obviously to generate your own through exports,” he said. “I think that we have seen that (manufacturers) have shifted some resources, some focus onto the export markets and generating their own foreign exchange.”
On whether local manufacturers would be able to incorporate local raw materials into their manufacturing process, he said sometimes things come out of necessity. He recalled that in the 1980s there was situation similar to what the country is facing now and there was a call for the manufacturers to come out and begin exporting.
“I think (that situation) did pull us out a little bit in those times when energy prices had crashed as well. We’re getting to a time here where it is a very similar situation, the call is out there for the manufacturers to come to the forefront and start exporting more, generating more foreign exchange and being a changing factor in terms of the diversification of the economy and keeping us going forward in the right direction.”
Alcazar continued, “Yes, we do have a lot of foreign inputs but there are some local inputs and there is definitely the possibility of having additional (ones) through agriculture and some of the other avenues that the Government is looking at. So, I think that necessity is really what is going to push us into diversification of some of these things and I think there are some short-term wins but we are really going to have to get the old talk out of the way and make some of these changes if we are going to look at long term and mid-to-long term achievement.”
He said that through diversification, manufacturers can make an impact on earning foreign exchange, adding that this has been proven and what is necessary is to grow that sector. He said about half or less than half of the country’s manufacturers are currently exporters and the TTMA can look at getting some of the small manufacturers into CARICOM to get some experience and get them to grow. The organisations is also looking at the big manufacturers which are very dominant in CARICOM and getting them into export markets outside of CARICOM such as the Latin American markets where this country already has trade agreements with such countries as Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Panama. He said some manufacturers are already involved in these markets and this is what is going to earn more foreign exchange for the country.
He said while the country is currently suffering low energy prices, there is an opportunity to get the government to prioritise the allocation of foreign exchange to manufacturers, and the TTMA will seek priority either through the Export Import Bank of Trinidad and Tobago or through the Central Bank so that manufacturers can settle their bills for raw materials. He said this concession is important for the continuation of manufacturing.
Alcazar said productivity was also a big issue in the manufacturing sector. On the labour shortages which manufacturers have been complaining about for years, Alcazar said there are a lot of shortages and businesses are calling for people “all through the spectrum.”
He said the TTMA has started the TTMA Careers website which tries to match available workers with the vacancies in the sector. He said that when companies announce retrenchment there is a direct engagement with the companies to see if workers can be paired with member companies that have vacancies. “I think that if we continue to look for the silver lining and the opportunities… that with the energy sector downsizing slightly it is an opportunity for the manufacturing sector to get skilled labour, to get people that have a strong work ethic as our energy sector has really been driven by this over the years and to really benefit from some of that more than people going home and being unemployed.”