Government has no plans to remove its subsidised employment programmes anytime soon.
Boasting about the country’s lowest ever unemployment rate—a record 3.7 per cent as at the first quarter of 2013—Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar told the audience yesterday at the American Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting at the Hilton Trinidad that there is still a need to keep some of these programmes, including the Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) and Unemployment Relief Programme (URP).
“We have increased the level of vocational training. I think for the time being we still have need for some of those programmes to deal with some of those who are not trained; we are trying to use the programmes to train people—URP Social, for example. We keep participants on a stipend as an incentive to keep them in the training,” Persad-Bissessar said.
She said Trinidad and Tobago was a “success story”, based on the recent International Monetary Fund’s country report, and feedback she received from her trip to Panama for the World Economic Forum, although she noted that for a country with such a high gross domestic product level, there was still some disparity and development that needed to be addressed.
Nevertheless, Persad-Bissessar said citizens did not always recognise and acknowledge the T&T success story, and “under no circumstances are we taking our progress for granted”.
She said the challenges of negotiating bi-lateral agreements while being part of a common market like Caricom were “challenging”.
“The country is experiencing several challenges when it comes to single market economy in the Caricom region. There is good and bad; the good is that it has assisted local manufacturers in getting products into the Caricom region, giving us protected markets, but at the same time there are challenges because of the differences of the economies in the region. And while there are several trade agreements, bilateral we would like to enter into, we cannot negotiate on the bilateral level unless we have the permission of Caricom members,” she said.
She noted the difficulty the region is having now coming to common terms as it renegotiates its trade agreement with Canada. The old agreement, which expired last year but has been extended for one more year, allows Caricom countries to export goods to Canada duty-free.
“Should it expire without common ground found then it means certain products we have will find great difficulty to get into Canadian markets. This will affect prices and make it perhaps not economic to sell certain things to Canada,” she said.
She also said that Caribbean countries’ demands that, because of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, Trinidad and Tobago should sell its hydrocarbon products (subsidised $4 billion annually by the government) at the same local market prices, subsidised to other Caricom markets as well was “not a viable, feasible option for any of us”.