Browne: T&T businesses suffer from low self-esteem

(Trinidad Guardian) – Trade Minister Mariano Browne lashed out at the poor support government receives from the business community when negotiating trade treaties.

He said government always meets with the business community before the start of any trade negotiations to get a list of issues, trade intelligence and other information as the basis for negotiations, but the data provided is often up to two years out of date, while the other side is able to present data for the last quarter based on information, research and surveys from their own business communities. “Much of this situation stems from our own perception of ourselves, our country and our business community. Our business community is suffering from low self-esteem.” Browne was speaking at an information and communication technology (ICT) Business Financing Forum hosted by Evolving TecKnologies and Enterprise Development Ltd (e-TecK) at the Hilton Trinidad, St Ann’s, Port-of-Spain recently.

Competing for new markets

Browne called on the private sector to get its act together or it will continue to miss opportunities to break into new markets. He said it was embarrassing at times when negotiators meet to exchange information and the data provided by T&T’s business community is often outdated and incomplete, while the other party has access to the latest trade data and an extensive list of issues to be addressed.

Browne acknowledged that work has been done by the local trade associations to update trade data, and to develop a common position for trade negotiations, but said much work was needed to match the responsiveness of their international business groups. “This is important because the private sector is expected to lead the export thrust when negotiations are completed.” “We still see each other as the competition, and we are reluctant to release an share information about our business operations because we feel other businesses in our community will have access to our data, and will use it to better position themselves to compete.

“The truth is we have to stop looking at our market place in such a narrow way. You have to recognise that you are no longer competing against the store down the street. You are now competing on a global scale with other companies in Latin America, the Far East and Europe, so you have to take advantage of the opportunities to gain new markets and partner with local businesses to get the scale to compete against the world. “This negative view of ourselves is one of the main reasons why this country scored lower than expected on the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI). “In terms of the data, T&T scored relatively high with better relative scores for national savings, gross domestic product, debt ratios and productivity.”

Outgrowing Caricom

“Government is willing to support the business community and much of the success we have been seeing with our exports to Caricom is a result of deliberate policies and the strategy by the government to diversify the economy. “However, we have reached the stage where we have outgrown Caricom and we need to look further afield. This means organising our business community to take the lead and position ourselves as a group to take advantage of export opportunities and break into new markets,” Browne said.

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