The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago (AMCHAM T&T), The Energy Chamber, and Trinidad & Tobago Manufacturers Association (TTMA) wish to reject in the strongest possible fashion any suggestion that our concerns about the operations of the Industrial Court is either an attack on the institution or an attempt to return the country to colonial days as has been suggested by the Joint Trade Union Movement.
The business associations have for some time had concerns about the Industrial Relations Framework in Trinidad and Tobago and the operations of several institutions, including the Industrial Court of Trinidad and Tobago.
We are confident the expression of these concerns falls within any reasonable definition of fair comment.
We are of the view that there is a need for greater clarity on how and why the Court arrives at its judgments, and the awards made by the court. The members of these associations see this as crucial in building trust in our institutions and in ensuring that all parties feel that they are being treated equitably.
At the heart of our concern is our vision for an IR Framework that is modern and reflective of today’s reality. Why for example is Trinidad and Tobago the only country in the Caribbean where it is necessary for an individual to join a trade union in order to bring an action before the industrial court against an employer? Why must a worker have to pay dues to a union and, should they be successful, share their earnings with the Trade Union simply because they do not have access to the court on their own? We feel this needs to change and the IR framework modernized.
The business associations are also concerned that in this time of economic challenge and when several surveys have shown the urgent need for increased productivity, the IR Framework and the operations of institutions limit the country’s ability to improve productivity levels and give us a better chance of weathering the economic downturn and protecting the jobs of workers and revenue to the state.
We have proposed legislative changes which are all in keeping with conventions of the International Labour Organisation. We feel the time has come for a frank discussion, by all parties, on the need for legislative and operational changes and the way forward as we try to update and reform the IR framework in Trinidad and Tobago.
A reformed, modern and progressive IR framework, underpinned by sound laws will benefit individuals, businesses, the labour movement and the country.
AMCHAM T&T DISMAYED BY POLITICAL WRANGLING OVER CRITICAL FATCA LEGISLATION
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago (AMCHAM T&T) is deeply disappointed by the continued political wrangling that is contributing to the delay of the passage of the critical legislation governing the implementation of Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). While we believe that debate is the trademark of a healthy democracy, we assert that this should not occur at the expense of best interest of the country. Our elected leaders are entrusted by the citizenry to always put country first and to rise above the myopic political tactics that could cripple our financial institutions and be detrimental to our ability to do business with the rest of the world.
AMCHAM T&T has been very vocal on this issue and our views remain unchanged. We believe that there is no need for a Joint Select Committee to be set up to review the Tax Information Exchange Bill. The minor amendments which may now be desired can be made without going to a JSC, which will unnecessarily delay the passage of the legislation within the timeline which T&T itself provided to the Government of the United States of America. Non-compliance by the stipulated deadline could pose a major challenge for operations within financial institutions and in turn gravely affect our ability to do business with the rest of the world. This will also adversely affect our trade relationship with the U.S., who is still a major trading partner T&T.
We urge all legislators, in particular the Opposition, to let good sense prevail, and commit to passing the legislation forthwith. We also take this opportunity to point out that co-operation between the Government and Opposition will be required over the next few months to ensure that our country meets its Caribbean Financial Action Task Force commitments to credibly show that we are committed to fighting money laundering, the financing of terrorism and other financial crimes.
We trust that our elected leaders will put politics aside to ensure that the interests of Trinidad and Tobago come first.
AMCHAM T&T’s INITIAL RESPONSE TO THE 2017 NATIONAL BUDGET
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago (AMCHAM T&T) acknowledges the philosophy and the framework of the Budget, as we strive to address the current economic challenges. The government has recognised that it cannot be business as usual and has taken steps to cut back on expenditure, but we are of the view that more needs to be done particularly in reference to transfers and subsidies. We would like to thank the Ministry of Finance for taking on board the recommendations of the private sector particularly those outlined by AMCHAM T&T, in particular moves to boost investment facilitation and raising revenue through the sale of shares in state enterprises.
Moreover AMCHAM T&T welcomes the full operationalisation of the Public Procurement Act, the appointment of a Procurement Regulator and the establishment of the Office of the Procurement Regulator and procurement units in the public service in the next six months. We commend the Government’s commitment to establish the Revenue Authority, and we await further details.
We commend the review of the Petroleum tax regime inclusive of the Supplemental Petroleum Tax (SPT), and we hope to be included in these discussions. However, we are disappointed in the introduction of the 30 percent increase in Corporation Tax on chargeable profit of one million dollars. The increase in this tax is counter-intuitive to the thrust of developing entrepreneurial activity. In addition, the higher effective tax rate will act as a disincentive to new investments, particularly in the non-energy sectors. This is an additional burden coming on the heels of the increase of the Business and Green Fund Levy.
We recommended and support the consideration of transfer pricing legislation. We however urge consultation, early and meaningfully, as the country should not enact legislation which goes so far that it acts as a disincentive for investment and economic activity. This is pertinent as we seek to encourage trade and export and more of our local companies are themselves seeking to become multinationals.
The Information Communication Technology (ICT) policy for education is an extremely positive step as the country seeks to create a modern workforce that can compete in the knowledge economy.
We also welcome the sale of shares in the state enterprises and the creation of the high level team to review significant investments.
The FATCA extension is welcome. We urge both sides not to squander the opportunity and for the Government and Opposition to set and agree on clear timelines in Parliament for passage.
The reduction in Transfers and Subsidies, particularly restructuring the URP and CEPEP programs has long been advocated for by AMCHAM T&T. While there has been successive announcements of returning these programs to their policy moorings, AMCHAM T&T is concerned that sufficient action has not been taken to give effect to reducing these expenditures to sustainable levels.
AMCHAM T&T is disappointed that the Minister announced the online tax without consultation as he committed to discuss with AMCHAM T&T and other stakeholders prior to the budget.
We await details on valuations for the property tax and once again urge that uncovered plants, rigs and machinery not be included in the value of the property, as this would present a challenge to some companies.
The removal of VAT on ship repairs is a very positive move, as we believe this will this will assist the industry. It is important to note that this is an export industry which earns foreign exchange.
Overall we believe that this is a positive budget and we believe that the announcement of Private Public Partnerships (PPP) is welcome as consultation needs to continue. AMCHAM T&T is committed to playing our part.
AMCHAM T&T ADVOCATES FOR PASSAGE OF FATCA LEGISLATION
The American Chamber of Commerce of T&T (AMCHAM T&T) strongly urges the Government and Opposition to work together to ensure the passage of the Tax Information Exchange Bill 2016 (commonly referred to as the FATCA legislation) by the deadline date of September 30th, 2016.
We are of the view that our country is on the brink of being demoted to the periphery of the global financial system largely due to inaction on the part of politicians on both sides of the political divide. This is a crisis manufactured by politics to the detriment of the national interest. The former Government had ample opportunity to pass this legislation during its tenure, and the current Government has also had more than a year to ensure that this important piece of legislation was properly vetted, reviewed and passed.
We are mindful that there has been limited, if any, consultation with stakeholders on the legislation which is currently before the House. However, AMCHAM T&T is of the view that there is still enough time for both the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament to complete deliberations on the Bill and to ensure its passage before the 30th September 2016 deadline. The foregoing is critical since there has as yet been no indication that an extension of time is being contemplated by the U.S. Government.
Should this Bill not be passed by the deadline, the costs of participating in the international financial system can be impacted and ultimately, a possible loss of correspondent bank relationships could occur if this and other obligations are not met which could, in turn, lead to difficulties in conducting, for example, credit card transactions and wire transfers. This would mean that everything from buying goods or services online, to transferring money to pay university fees or purchase inputs for businesses would be affected. Potential shortages and consequential increases to the prices of goods and services already in scarce supply would also arise over time as a consequence of the deadline not being met.
AMCHAM T&T is mindful that once the Bill is passed, guidelines for compliance will be developed by the regulators of financial institutions, the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago and the Securities Exchange Commission of Trinidad and Tobago. To this end, we encourage stakeholder involvement in the early stages of the development of these guidelines.
We caution that once this piece of legislation is passed, other critical pieces of legislation require urgent attention to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago comply with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing obligations. Failure to do so would continue to jeopardize our country’s links to the international banking system.
Several CARICOM countries, including Jamaica, Barbados and the Bahamas, have already passed their ‘FATCA’ legislation. It is our view that legislators on both sides of the aisle should put country first and work toward the passage of this legislation by the deadline. The consequence of inaction is not something that we can either afford or entertain.
JOINT CHAMBERS MEET WITH INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANISATION (ILO) TO DISCUSS IMPROVING INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ENVIRONMENT
The Joint Chambers – AMCHAM T&T, The Energy Chamber, T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, TTCSI & TTMA – met recently with a team from the Caribbean Office of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The ILO Decent Work Team was headed by Claudia Coenjaerts, Director of the Office of the Caribbean and included Dagmar Walter, Rainer Pritzger and Shingo Miyake. The Joint Chambers were represented by the CEOs of the respective organisations – Nirad Tewarie, Dr. Dax Driver, Catherine Kumar, Radha Permanand & Dr Mahindra Ramdeen – and Chair of the Joint Chambers Industrial Relations Committee Teresa White.
The meeting was requested by the Joint Chambers to get the ILO’s perspective on the current industrial relations (IR) climate as well as suggestions for improvement through the adoption of global best practice. In addition, the Joint Chambers took the opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns on the IR environment.
Both parties agreed that T&T would benefit from stricter adherence to ILO Conventions to which this country is already a party. In this regard, some issues surrounding the rights of workers, including the right to access the industrial court directly as an individual, were discussed. During this discussion, the fact that the current conversation has resulted in minimal discussion of the responsibilities of workers was also raised, with both parties
agreeing that both workers’ rights and responsibilities need to be discussed concurrently as they go hand in hand in creating and maintaining an effective industrial relations environment.
Government’s creation of the National Tripartite Advisory Committee (NTAC) came in for some praise as all present expressed optimism that this mechanism will create an avenue for more regular, positive engagement among the tripartite actors. In this regard, the possibility of a Labour Code, expansion of the definition of worker, the efficacy of the Industrial Court, the tardiness in concluding collective agreements and the possibility of a Code of Conduct for discussions were also raised. Such a Code of Conduct could possibly involve something like an ILO publication on “National Tripartite Social Dialogue”, which would be a “guide” for improved governance.
Following the meeting, the Joint Chambers will be hosting a consultation with their members, with the support of the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business on 20th
April 2016 at the Yara Auditorium of the ALGSB. The event is being held to present and get feedback on the work the Joint Chambers have done on industrial relations legislation and improving the IR environment to enhance national competitiveness and create jobs. The ILO Caribbean Office will make a presentation at the consultation. Following this consultation, the Joint Chambers will make a joint submission to the Ministry of Labour & Small Enterprise Development by the end of April 2016.
AMCHAM T& T WELCOMES THE NEW US AMBASSADOR TO T&T
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago would like to extend a warm welcome to His Excellency, John L. Estrada on his appointment as the new US Ambassador to Trinidad & Tobago.
Since its inception 24 years ago, AMCHAM T&T and the US Embassy have cultivated a close working relationship. This relationship remains important as the United States maintains its position as Trinidad and Tobago’s largest trading partner. This and other issues were discussed when the Ambassador met with Ravi Suryadevara and Nirad Tewarie, AMCHAM T&T’s President and CEO, earlier in April, 2016.
On welcoming the US Ambassador to Trinidad & Tobago, Suryadevara said: “It was clear in our initial meeting that AMCHAM T&T and Ambassador Estrada have shared priorities. His wide ranging expertise and energy will undoubtedly amplify an already strong relationship that AMCHAM T&T shares with the embassy, and further increase business and trade ties between our countries”.
A son of the soil, the Ambassador, was born and raised in Laventille, Port of Spain. He would later emmigrate with his family to the United States at the age of 14. A true success story, Ambassador Estrada has had many professional achievements throughout his career. He has served as a Presidentially-appointed Commissioner on the American Battle Monuments Commission; as a Committee Member of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services; a member of the National Board of Directors for Operation Homefront; and on the Executive Committee for the United Services Organization. Ambassador Estrada also has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from the University of Phoenix.
Prior to his confirmation, Ambassador Estrada was Senior Manager for Lockheed Martin Training Solutions. Ambassador Estrada served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 34 years, most notably as the 15th Sergeant Major of the United States Marine Corps – the nation’s highest-ranking enlisted Marine.
As The Pathway to the Americas, AMCHAM T&T continues to widen its scope of involvement and engagement with its counterparts in the Western Hemisphere, and as such remains committed to deepening its connection with the United States of America.
His Excellency is scheduled to be the feature speaker at AMCHAM T&T’s 23rd Annual General Meeting, which will take place on Thursday 12th May, 2016 at the Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre.
AMCHAM T&T’S INITIAL RESPONSE TO THE 2016 MID-YEAR REVIEW:
NEED FOR FURTHER ADJUSTMENT
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago continues to appreciate the difficult position that the Government has faced in the past six months. We understand the delicate balance that exists in trying to stimulate economic growth, social stability and encourage trade and investment.
We recognize the adjustment of the oil and gas prices assumption to more prudent figures of $35 per barrel and $2 per mmbtu natural gas as a necessity of the current circumstances. In light of the prevailing economic conditions, AMCHAM T&T supports the reduction in the fuel subsidy.
AMCHAM T&T would like to see more definitive and strong actions with respect to the further diversification of the economy. Focus should be targeted towards the areas that are intended to act as a buffer while tax revenues from the energy sector are projected to remain low.
We are grateful that the Minister recognizes the delay in meeting the statutory timeline for VAT refunds and the burden it places on businesses. However, systemic challenges within the BIR necessitates that more than legislative amendment is required to alleviate the challenges that stakeholders face. We are hopeful that the penal provisions against the State for delay in VAT refunds is unaltered in the amendment. We continue to advocate for the formation of the Revenue Authority and for the introduction of other mechanisms to increase the efficiency of tax revenue collection, as AMCHAM T&T highlighted in previous budget submissions in much detail.
The foreign exchange rate, articulated by the Minister of Finance is a step towards finding a balance in satisfying foreign exchange demand. We remain vigilant in the near term to monitor the effects this has on the wider community, to determine what further action is required.
AMCHAM T&T requests of the Minister of Finance to carefully consider the government’s position on the application of the 7% levy on online purchase on retail companies not resident in T&T. Internet shopping has proven to increase efficiency in spending, by lowering cost overall and increasing choice to the end consumer. There is a global shift to internet shopping migrating from traditional retail. Government agencies currently benefit from internet sourcing and purchases both in revenue generation by actually offering internet shopping as a revenue earner, and as a cost reduction mechanism, in sourcing critical parts for police vehicles, ambulances etc. There is a greater need for efficiency in Customs. Many other smaller CARICOM economies, have implemented a de minimums system, freeing up the system to increase efficiency, rather than adding more taxes. This tax or any additional on-line tax will significantly impede a growing industry which employs hundreds of people directly and more indirectly in light of the Government’s need to create new revenue streams.
AMCHAM T&T remains committed to working with the government in addressing the present economic challenges. We recognize the Government’s effort in bringing a measure of balance to the present circumstances and avail ourselves to dialogue on the way forward.
AMCHAM T& T Promotes Diversity And Inclusion At Annual National Youth Productivity Forum
“No one person or select groups within society should be discriminated against based on gender, geography, sexuality, race, political affiliation and so on.” These were the words of Nirad Tewarie, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago as he delivered remarks at the Opening Ceremony of AMCHAM T&T’s National Youth Productivity Forum (NYPF). Now in its seventh year, the forum was launched at the University of Trinidad & Tobago’s (UTT), Valsayn Campus on Wednesday 27th January, 2016 under the patronage of His Excellency, The President of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, Anthony Carmona, SC.
The annual event features some of the best and brightest students from diverse geographic regions of T&T, as they seek to critically analyse and discuss societal issues that are of national and global importance. This years’ theme ‘Diversity…Inclusion … towards a more productive Trinidad and Tobago’ was chosen as AMCHAM T&T believes this topic is pivotal to the sustainable development of Trinidad &Tobago. It is the hope of the organisation that by engaging young people in open and meaningful dialogue, it will enhance their education and understanding of these issues and its implications for our economy.
Mr. Tewarie emphasised “that diversity, inclusion and tolerance” were critical elements to adopt as Trinidad and Tobago is now at an economic crossroads. He stated: “At this juncture in our economy we must focus on being competitive. One means of doing so is to ensure that we are able to embrace everyone in society who is willing and able to contribute.” He noted that increasing the productive capacity needed to bolster T&T’s competiveness may be hampered if we continue to exclude marginalized groups. These persons may then be forced to depend on state benefits, charity or casual work with marginal remuneration, which in the end does not promote financial independence. He also advocated for the inclusion of all groups in society to participate fully in promoting equality for all.
“I would like to state categorically that we at AMCHAM T&T are of the view that Trade Unions are a partner in development” said Mr. Tewarie. He further stated, “we firmly believe that with sincerity of purpose…..business and labour can work harmoniously to come up with solutions that would lead to a more competitive and productive Trinidad & Tobago”.
In a display of his dedication to the project and the young people of this nation, President Carmona spent over an hour greeting and chatting individually with each student participating in the forum.
Professor Dyer Narinesingh, President of the University of Trinidad & Tobago in his address promoted the idea that “knowledge is the new natural resource”. He explained this idea by stating that “knowledge fuelled by power and fuelled by imagination in a creative, innovation and entrepreneurial workforce (all of which) will lead to the appreciation of the diversity of our people and the diversification and growth of our economy”.
David Belgrave, CEO of Massy Technologies InfoCom (T&T) Ltd applauded the efforts of the teachers and the students over the years, as he has seen first-hand the growth of the students during program. He urged the business community to support programs like the NYPF and to heed the messages of diversity and inclusion.
The model of the NYPF, which targets students between the ages of 16 to 18 years in all secondary schools in the country, is multifaceted and comprises of Discussion Rounds, an Online Component, a School’s Business Project and Internships during the July/August vacation.
The schools participating in this year’s competition are: Queen’s Royal College; St. Joseph’s Convent Port-of-Spain; Holy Name Convent, Port-of-Spain; Woodbrook Secondary School; Eldorado East Secondary School; Arima Central Secondary School; Toco Secondary School; Coryal Secondary School; Cowen Hamiliton Secondary School; ASJA Girls College, San Fernando; Shiva Boys Hindu College, San Fernando; Presentation College, Chaguanas; Waterllo Secondary School; Trinity College, Moka and ASJA Boys College, Chaguanas.
Sponsors for this year’s National Youth Productivity Forum include Platinum sponsors First Citizens and Ezone, other sponsors G-TECH, EOG Resources and ABT Engineers and Constructors Limited. Partners include UTT, Massy Technologies Limited, YTEPP Limited and The Trinidad & Tobago National Commission for UNESCO.
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