The US State of Florida is an important business partner and local businesses must strengthen their relationship with businesses there.
President of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) Hugh Howard who opened the luncheon of the Florida Trade Mission which was headed by Trinidad-born, Florida Lt Governor General Jennifer Carroll, at the Hyatt Regency, (Trinidad) Port of Spain, last week said: "Because Florida and Miami in particular is host to a large Caribbean Diaspora, local businesses need to leverage the goodwill synergies in order to deepen and strengthen their trade with such an important partner".
"We at AmCham TT are cognizant of the importance of international trade as one of the pillars of sustainable economic development and the pivotal role of trade missions in that regard. The economic tremors of recent years which have affected and threatened to destabilise the economies of our traditional trading partners in the US, Europe and in the Caribbean have been a wake-up call for all of us to be proactive and creative in our efforts to ensure growth and employment generation," Howard said.
He noted that the US, which has been this country's largest trading partner for decades, absorbs 52 per cent of this country's exports and provides about 31 per cent of this country's imports, and so expressed confidence that there would be positive outcomes from the interactions between the 175 local companies and the 30, visiting US firms which participated in the Trade Mission.
However, Howard cautioned against expectations of overnight results.
"I wish to strike a note of practical realism regarding trade missions, which I trust will dissipate any inflated expectations of immediate multi million dollar contracts. Trade missions are necessary mechanisms for opening doors and establishing relationships for mutual business interaction. Some deals fructify in the short term while others have longer gestation periods. The efficacy of the initiative is beyond dispute but successes are dependent on the trust and confidence engendered at the business and governmental levels of stakeholders and follow up actions."
Howard said that AmCham believes that although the Caribbean Basin Initiative is an important mechanism in assisting developing small states including Caricom members, for it to be fully meaningful it must be expanded to include services and additional manufactured products, within the current economic climate. He said AmCham readily agreed to be a part of the trade mission because they know that the existing economic climate not only poses challenges but presents an opportunity for the local private sector to negotiate competitive prices for quality products and inputs to their manufacturing processes.
As a member of the Association of American Chambers of Commerce of Latin America and the Caribbean, AmCham TT, Howard said, has been able to lobby on legislative matters which impact on trade and the economies of this country and Caricom.
Carroll, who also spoke at the luncheon was a bit more optimistic that the benefits would definitely be seen within a more immediate time frame.
She said the teams, local and foreign businesses, were magnificent and she had an opportunity to meet with a business that uses the Port of Point Lisas, who wants to distribute its products in Florida, so when she goes back to Florida, her first mission is to find a distributor for the local company there.
This one partnership, if made, she said will create an opportunity for business expansion on both sides as well as employment.
She also noted the market in Florida for local produce including provisions, hot peppers and cocoa, but more than that there is an open service sector that can be tapped, she said.
"While you have a large service sector industry, over 60 per cent of your employee base is in that area but yet still your GDP is turning over about 38 per cent.
That is a great opportunity there to have even science and technology, manufacturing, call centres and for 21 century and beyond for job opportunities in the new age and the new generation of things to come.
I don't want any of our trade missions to be one way, it has be a win-win where it creates opportunity here, creates businesses, creates jobs creates a business economic climate that will be beneficial to Trinidadians and Floridians as well."
Minister of National Security Jack Warner also spoke at the luncheon as acting Prime Minister in the absence of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and attempted to sell the country to the visiting entrepreneurs.
"The Trinidad and Tobago Government has over the past two years in particular made clear its appreciation for the fact that in order to thrive in the current environment, we must not only explore and form partnerships, but also encourage and enhance them wherever possible.
It is only through mutually beneficial partnerships that we can all successfully navigate the sometimes volatile global economy. And as part of our family in the diaspora, there can be no better place to begin exploring the possibilities than in familiar and cherished territory here in Trinidad and Tobago," Warner said.
Warner told of this country being one of the leading economies in the Caribbean region whose reputation has been gained through hard work and the commitment of government and the private sector.
He said the government's programme of economic reform is to ensure the country's continued economic stability and leadership within the changing and at times unpredictable global economic environment.