Trinidad and Tobago president Andrew Sabga discusses the recent Guatemala Trade Mission
Q: Why did the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce choose Guatemala as a market of focus for 2011?
A. This market was identified for a number of reasons. Firstly, the decision was based on the sheer scope and size of the market and the fact that Central America and by extension Guatemala, remains a relatively untapped yet attractive market for many businesses in the Caribbean. Secondly, we focussed on Guatemala because this was one of the outcomes of the "Connecting the Caribbean and Central America" Conference hosted by the Chamber in collaboration with the Association of Caribbean States held at the Hyatt Regency in October of last year. Fourteen top Guatemalan businessmen representing eleven (11) firms visited Trinidad and Tobago which further opened our eyes to the opportunities in that part of the world. The reason we chose to launch a Commercial Mission at this time was to coincide the visit with our participation in the INDUEXPO trade show which showcased all of Central America and had representation from North America.
Q: How would you evaluate the success of this mission?
A: In discussions with all the firms that participated, excellent feedback has been received in respect of leads for both import and export opportunities in Guatemala and several neighbouring Central American countries. Many of the firms have already planned follow up business trips in the coming weeks in order to finalise their arrangements. The Chamber will continue to monitor progress and assist these delegates in securing the business opportunities resulting from this trade mission.
Q: What other markets in Latin America would the Chamber be targeting for 2011?
A: We will certainly keep focussed on this market in order to ensure that we maximise the value out of this trip. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago is negotiating a Partial Scope Agreement in goods only with Panama and Guatemala. Additionally, we have been approached by the Honduras Government. We will look at all of these opportunities and assess which areas provide the greatest prospects for growth for our members and the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Q: What has been the Private Sector response to Trade Missions launched by the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, including other Business Service Organisations?
A: It has really been good. So much so that in 2006, when the International Trade Negotiations Unit-ITNU (of which this Chamber and the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago-AMCHAM are stakeholders) mounted the first Services Trade and Investment Mission to the Dominican Republic it did so in collaboration with the Barbados Coalition of Services Industries (BCSI) and its membership.
Furthermore, in 2008 the AMCHAM TT collaborated with the ITNU and the Chamber mounting a Central American Mission to El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama.
For this mission, the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association's (TTMA) President and Chief Executive Officer, and several of their members accompanied us on our visit to Guatemala. Additionally, we had one Private Sector company join us from St. Lucia. All in all the mission comprised of 21 delegates representing eleven firms. Of noteworthy mention, is the fact that Trinidad and Tobago was the second largest delegation attending this 4th Edition of INDUEXPO.
Q: From which country was the largest mission represented at the INDUEXPO?
A: Taiwan, which had a pavilion.
Q: What is the benefit to be derived from these Trade Missions to the Economy of Trinidad and Tobago?
A: It gives opportunities for us to export our goods and services – it opens up new markets. Opportunities are created for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from Trinidad and Tobago into that particular market and also opens up Trinidad and Tobago for corresponding business investment.
Q: What level of support would you like to see from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for future missions of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber?
A: Support with respect to setting up a pavilion that would properly showcase what the country has to offer. Continued support with regard to developing better trade relations with these markets to develop increased trade in goods and services. We are very pleased to say that our Minister of Trade and Industry, the Honourable Stephen Cadiz and his Director of Trade, Mr Norris Herbert, were part of this initiative. Our country responded to an invitation received from the President of Guatemala to our Honourable Prime Minister, Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Minister Cadiz represented our Prime Minister on the mission and in a series of Government-to-Government meetings while taking the opportunity to participate in sessions with the Guatemalan Private Sector Organisations. We are confident that our Government's presence would go a long way in paving the way for future business.
Q: What, in your view was the most significant achievement from a business-to-business standpoint and what do you see as the next steps from a Government perspective?
A: At present, it may be too early to answer. However, we believe Mission was a step in the right direction and that the initiative has succeeded in creating real opportunities for all individuals who attended this mission. This is the beginning of a very valuable relationship between the businesspeople of Trinidad and Tobago and their Guatemalan/Central American counterparts. As I mentioned earlier, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the Government of Guatemala will soon be commencing negotiations on a Partial Scope Agreement.
Q: What is your perspective on the country as a whole? We understand that National elections there are imminent, carded for September or October of this year?
A: It is a large market with great opportunities for manufacturers, service providers and importers. While the country is expected to have an election shortly and given the current poles, there is the likelihood of a change in Government. We do not anticipate that the elections will have any negative impact on the development of the business potential between our two countries and as a Chamber we will certainly be actively seeking to progress the gains we have made from this trade mission. All indications are that the economic and trade policies of the existing Government will for the most part continue when and if a new government is elected.
The people were very warm and accommodating and eager to do business. The cost of labour is significantly less than in Trinidad and Tobago and the people appear to be very productive and resourceful. This would mean therefore that the Trinidad and Tobago manufacturers will need to be extremely competitive to take advantage of the many prospects that could potentially exist in that market.
Central America, viz:- El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, has always had a reputation of being extremely dangerous. While this is in fact the case, this has not discouraged multinational companies from establishing beach-heads in that market. Like many other countries in the world, one must be street smart when moving around Guatemala City. At no time during our visit, did any member of the Trinidad and Tobago delegation feel unsafe.
The economy is agro-based which is very evident as you drive around the countryside. During a visit to Antigua de Guatemala, we observed that the city has preserved its old architectural heritage and is a must see to anyone travelling to Guatemala. It is evident that the Government is taking great pains to maintain and restore the original architecture of Guatemala "Antigua".