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Indera Sagewan-Alli

Executive director of the Caribbean Centre for Competitiveness

By By Kimberly Castillo

There was no cause for rejoicing when the results of the 2012 Global Competitiveness Index were produced. Trinidad and Tobago fell two spots on the ranking, coming in at the 84th spot.

Doing things to improve the competitiveness of our productive sectors is an imperative for Trinidad and Tobago as it is for the entire region, stressed executive director of the Caribbean Centre for Competitiveness (CCFC) Indera Sagewan-Alli.

"Since the global financial crisis, all our sectors have been in decline, manufacturing has contracted by over 50 per cent, tourism is in a bad way, agriculture continues to contribute less than one per cent to GDP and is even declining. The construction sector is basically at death's door and over the last number of years we keep hearing when the budget is read that the effort is going to be made to stimulate those sectors," says Sagewan-Alli.

She adds that a major contributing factor for this country's two point drop in the competitive index is government bureaucracy, government inability to fast track the changes that are required in the business environment. Issues that are related to the port, clearing of containers, customs, land and building permits and requirements, the length of time it takes to register a business, the length of time it takes to refund VAT are just some of the critical issues that negatively affect Trinidad and Tobago's competitiveness currently.

"I've heard the Minister of Trade quite recently state and restate plans to change some of those things and in fact he's even given a deadline to the end of the year, I think that kind of committment is not new, we've heard this from previous ministers of trade and previous administrations. The problem is that verbal committment has not so far translated into actual implementation of change programmes that are conducive to competitivenes," says Sagewan-Alli.

The answer may seem quite obvious, but why should we be so concerned with our ranking on the global competitiveness index?

The ranking is mostly based on what is called the business eco system, the extent to which the country's macroeconomic framework is conducive to private sector competitivess. The Global Competitiveness Index and the report focuses on the extent to which countries are able to create that enabling environment within which competitive business activity can take place. It also focuses on issues of corruption, and the extent to which corruption affects the country's competitiveness. Whether or not a country is measured (only eight of 15 Caribbean nations are measured), competitiveness is critical, says Sagewan-Alli.

"If we're unable to develop competitiveness we will not really be able to enjoy sustainable development, achieving competitiveness is a key factor. By sustainable development we mean a country that has a very strong private sector, one that is in fact an engine of growth that is able to create and innovate and export aggressively to international markets, one that is able to create sustainable employment and is the major stimulus of growth in the economy. What you would want to be seeing is a country where the standard of living is improving all the time. Those are the hallmarks of a competitive nation," says Sagewan-Alli.

Following the financial crisis of 2008 many nations have found themselves faced with the challenge to increase competitiveness. The US was once the world's largest manufacturer, now most of its manufacturing has gone to other countries, such as China. But there are several countries over the world that have achieved competitiveness, in the area of cost-efficiency, China stands as a beacon. Dubai has achieved competitiveness in the tourism market and India has flexed its muscles in the area of technology and IT.

"Again, not by vaps but by design, by having a plan that this is what they wanted and doing what is necessary to get that. In the post 2008 financial crisis there are countries that are doing it successfully, why not Trinidad and Tobago that has had the benefit of so much oil and gas revenue?" asks, Sagewan-Alli.

As the executive director of the CCFC, Sagewan-Alli's obsession is with competitiveness — building competitive firms, industries and building competitive nations in the region. At the CCFC's first Caribbean competitiveness forum next month, stakeholders will address several issues, including internationalisation of small and medium enterprises and debottling access to financing. There is no project financing as a model in the region neither is there an aggressive and successful venture capital model in the Caribbean - these are just some of the matters to be closely looked at, said Sagewan-Alli .

"At this forum we're looking to discuss solutions. We have discussed the problems to death. We're trying to ensure that the entire roomful of people are involved in that type of brainstorming," says Sagewan-Alli. Present at the forum will be keynote speaker Alex Pratt, OBE, entrepreneur and author of the bestseller Austerity Business: 39 tips for doing more with less.

The forum will be held on November 5-6 at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain. It will be of interest to academics, researchers, policymakers, small business owners and even those who may be thinking of starting a business. SMEs will also have the opportunity to showcase their products and build networks.

For registration details, contact 662-2002

ext. 83938, 84134, 85481, 84135 or head

on to CCFC's webpage at www.uwi.edu/ccfc.

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