T&T OFF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY WATCH-LIST
The Special 301 Report of 2016 was recently released by the Office of the United States Trade Representative. The annual report identifies barriers to trade posed by inadequate or ineffective intellectual property law enforcement in other countries. This year, the report reviewed the protection and enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights in 73 of the US’s trading partners including Trinidad and Tobago. In the latest report, Trinidad and Tobago has been removed from the Watch List. This is extremely gratifying for us at AMCHAM T&T.
Trinidad and Tobago, along with CARICOM counterpart Barbados, appeared on the Watch List in 2013 (only one other CARICOM country, Jamaica, has been on the Watch List, dating as far back as 2006). In the release of the 2016 Report, 15 countries in the Western Hemisphere have been flagged. These include three countries on the Priority Watch List (Argentina, Chile and Venezuela) and the remaining 12 (including Jamaica and Barbados) on the Watch list.
AMCHAM T&T played a critical role in bringing stakeholders to the table, to ensure that IP infringements were duly mediated, and in that regard AMCHAM T&T would like to recognize the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) for their action in addressing some of these challenges. AMCHAM T&T also engaged with the US Embassy during the Special 301 consultation process. We also advocated for our removal from the list at our various meetings in Washington DC at the US Chamber of Commerce and with US policy-makers. We remain committed to working with the private sector, regulatory agencies and government bodies to resolve potential barriers to trade and to improve the efficacy of our IP regulation system, which we must do even more effectively to stay off of the Watch List.
The Special 301 Report provides national and global policymakers with a roadmap to develop a stronger IP system and should engender not simply a reaction to a U.S. government report, but spur a deliberate investment in the innovative future of our own economies. Remaining off this list and similar categorizations means stronger IPR enforcement, protection and sensitization among stakeholders.
BILL TO SUPPORT DEEPER CARIBBEAN-US RELATIONS CLEARS US CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE
In other US-policy news, a bill to increase engagement with the governments of the Caribbean, the Caribbean diaspora community in the United States and the private sector civil society in both the US and the Caribbean has been introduced in the US House of Representatives. The Bill can be cited as the United States – Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016. It was sponsored by Congressman Eliot Engel and co-sponsored by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Undoubtedly, AMCHAM T&T along with the SOCA member organizations have been working to keep, not only Caribbean trade in services with the US, but general US – Caribbean relations on the front burner.
If passed, the Bill would require the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to submit to Congress a multiyear strategy focused on: outreach to the countries of the Caribbean and diaspora communities in the U.S., improving energy security, countering violence, ramping up diplomacy, and other priority areas. These priority areas include support for regional economic, political, and security integration efforts in the Caribbean region; encouraging sustainable economic development and increased regional economic diversification and global competitiveness;
In addition, the Bill requires the Government Accountability Office to produce two key reports: An evaluation of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) and a breakdown of CBSI assistance provided to each country; and an evaluation of U.S. diplomatic engagement with the Eastern Caribbean. The former would undoubtedly assist Trinidad and Tobago as we attempt to tackle drug and arms trafficking and rationalize programs and spending in the fight against crime.
According to Representative Engel, “While they are sometimes overlooked, the countries of the Caribbean are profoundly important to the United States, and particularly to the many Caribbean-American citizens in the United States. With so many crises around the globe that demand U.S. attention, we can’t lose sight of our long-term interests closer to home but should instead strengthen and expand ties with our Caribbean neighbours”.
The multi-year strategy for United States engagement with the Caribbean region is to be submitted to the appropriate congressional committees no later than 180 days after the date of enactment of the Act.
We at AMCHAM T&T intend to continue our engagement with Congress as we further develop our SOCA proposals for increasing business activity between the Caribbean and the US. We would be grateful for feedback or suggestions from our members in this regard.
Please read some of the SOCA background work at http://www.amchamtt.com/business-leaders-talk-us-caricom-services-trade-in-washington-advancing-soca-services-of-the-caribbean/ and let us know what we can do to create more opportunities for your businesses.
Read the full text of the bill here: https://democrats-foreignaffairs.house.gov/sites/democrats.foreignaffairs.house.gov/files/United%20States%20-%20Caribbean%20Strategic%20Engagement%20Act%20of%202016.pdf
Event: AMCHAM T&T’s Mid Year Review 2016
Date: Tuesday 12th April, 2016
Topic: In-depth analysis of Government’s 2016 Mid-Year Review: The impact of this on labour, business, taxation and the economic environment
Presented by:Nigel Romano, Intercommercial Bank
Presented by: Nicole Joseph, Tax Director, KPMG
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.
Joint position on reforming the industrial relations system – 17th March, 2016
Creating an employment environment that drives competitiveness and productivity
The Government of Trinidad & Tobago’s stated policy is “to foster and develop a peaceful, competitive and productive industrial relations climate”. The business community fully supports this policy objective and recognizes that achieving this objective is vital for the social and economic development of Trinidad & Tobago.
For the much needed diversification of our economy to take place, we must have competitive, export driven companies who are able to sell goods and services beyond our borders. If we are going to be globally competitive, we need to reverse the current trend in declining productivity. As the Honourable Prime Minister stated in his address to the inauguration ceremony of the National Tripartite Advisory Council on the 16th March 2016, boosting productivity must be our preeminent objective.
One of the most important elements needed to increase productivity is a dynamic labour market and a supportive industrial relations environment. We need an industrial relations system that promotes flexibility and open dialogue between employers and employees, rather than a system that just protects entrenched interests.
The reality is that the existing industrial relations system and climate will not lead to sustainable jobs, job security, or competitiveness for our people and our country. We therefore need a new industrial relations system.
In accordance with our international commitments to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the new industrial relations system must provide effective protection for employees, whilst simultaneously creating space for employers to deliver the growth that will ultimately lead to more jobs and an expanded economy.
The labour movement has played an essential role in our socio-economic history and the importance of trade unions in improving the lives of our citizens is beyond doubt. However, as the global economy changes and the very nature of work evolves through the advent of new technology and processes, new kinds of leadership and different stakeholder collaboration is required. Unions must become partners in improving the level of productivity in the workplace with a shared accountability with employers in improving the competency of the workforce. Unions must support employers in ensuring ethical work practices, aligned to global standards, in areas such as safety, occupational health and employee welfare.
Citizens of Trinidad & Tobago are today demanding transparency and accountability from all stakeholders, including employers, unions, courts and all other institutions. The industrial relations framework must provide that transparency and accountability if we are to have a system that is trusted by our citizens and which meets their needs. All stakeholders must be held accountable for their actions.
The existing Industrial Relations Act has served its purpose. The economic and social environment has changed since its introduction in 1972 and legislation must evolve to meet changing local and international conditions.
Legislation to protect employee rights
Trinidad & Tobago needs industrial relations legislation that is rights-based, balancing employee rights with employee obligations. The legislation must ensure justice and fair employment practices for all employees. It should comply with the ILO conventions to which Trinidad & Tobago is a signatory. The industrial relations legislation must be beneficial to both the overall national interest and to individual employees. The basic premise of our industrial relations legislation must be that every employee must have unfettered access to the law and the freedom to associate as they see fit, including the right to represent themselves.
Under the current Industrial Relations Act, employees in Trinidad & Tobago do not have full employment rights. Employees lack:
Amendments to the Industrial Relations Act must address these omissions and ensure alignment with the existing international conventions to which Trinidad & Tobago is a signatory. Our Industrial Relations Act must be rights-based and address ethical issues within employment relationships. Amendments to the Industrial Relations Act must take cognizance of the fact that many non-unionized businesses already provide a fair and equitable work environment for employees. Employees in such businesses should have the ability to access employment rights and remedies without having to join a trade union. The industrial relations legislation must offer protection to all employees – unionized and non-unionized.
The reform process
Reform of the current industrial relations framework will only be successfully if it is achieved through a consultative approach involving all business associations, labour organizations and other civil society organisations. All voices must be heard and respected. The reform process should be wide-reaching and include all of the enabling institutions and agencies. It must be transparent and fair in addressing the interests of all stakeholders.
The government has made a positive start to this process through the consultative process established by the Minister of Labour and the establishment of the National Tripartite Advisory Council. The business community is fully committed to playing an active role in this process.
The interdependence of business and labour becomes more obvious in tough economic times. Employment security depends on business survival and business survival depends on the ability to be competitive and dynamic. If we are going to preserve jobs through the current economic downturn, we need a collaborative and cooperative approach amongst business, labour, civil society and government.
Press Release No. 16/115
March 17, 2016
An International Monetary Fund mission, headed by Mr. Elie Canetti, visited Trinidad and Tobago during March 3–March 15, 2016 to conduct the annual Article IV consultation. Mr. Canetti issued the following statement in Port of Spain at the mission’s conclusion:
“Trinidad and Tobago’s economy is confronting a major shock with the sharp fall in energy prices that accelerated through early 2016. Based on available information, including on job losses and continued supply-side constraints in the energy sector, the mission projects GDP to fall 1 percent this year. In addition, declines in energy-based revenues will constrain the Government’s ability to act as an engine of growth. Beyond 2016, new energy projects will modestly boost energy production, while non-energy growth could start to recover, provided there is confidence in the country’s ability to navigate the harsher global environment.
“Despite the great challenges posed by the need to adjust to energy prices, Trinidad and Tobago still has enormous strengths, including a well-educated work force and a stable political system. With substantial financial buffers and low, albeit rising levels of public debt, Trinidad and Tobago is not in a crisis. Nonetheless, in recent years, taking into account the size of energy revenue windfalls, the country has under-saved and under-invested in its future. As a consequence, the imbalances that are now starting to build up could lead the country to uncomfortable levels of debt and external financial cushions absent further action.
“The new Government agrees that policy adjustments are needed. Since assuming office six months ago, the Government has already taken some difficult but necessary steps in the face of sharply lower energy revenues, including widening the VAT tax base, cutting fuel subsidies, reducing the number of Ministries with a view to streamlining the civil service, and instituting spending cuts. Despite these measures, with the further fall in energy prices since the budget, the mission projects the FY 2016 budget deficit at some 11 percent of GDP, although if one were to consider asset sales as revenue rather than financing, this would be equivalent to about 5 percent of GDP. Continued projected deficits of this size call for further fiscal consolidation, perhaps of around 6 percent of GDP over the next few years.
“The Government has already identified additional measures that could meet some portion of this, including improving tax collections (with the help of a unified revenue authority), increasing gaming taxes and reintroducing property taxation. We believe there is further scope to widen the VAT base and increase some excise taxes, which are low by the region’s standards. The Government has agreed to conduct a wide-ranging expenditure review, and will seek the assistance of the World Bank to rationalize and reverse the unsustainable increases in spending on transfers and subsidies over the last several years.
“We support the Government’s intent to conduct a national dialogue on fuel subsidies with a view to phasing them out over time, and to review the CEPEP and URP Government employment schemes and the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) program to make them more cost-efficient. Reducing such expenditures would also leave room for a needed reorientation towards development spending.
“The country’s external situation has been very challenging. Against a backdrop of foreign exchange shortages that have intensified since the beginning of 2015, the recent sharp falls in energy prices are further reducing the available supply. Reflecting those energy price declines, the current account of the balance of payments is estimated to have registered a deficit of over 5 percent of GDP in 2015 after years of surpluses. The mission estimates that deficits will continue, albeit at a reduced level of 2–3 percent of GDP as the economy slows and public spending is contained. The modest pace of depreciation should help to improve the current account. On the other hand, speculative and precautionary motives are reportedly increasing demand for foreign exchange. In the circumstances, greater flexibility in the foreign exchange market would be critical to resolving the foreign exchange shortages.
“While it is appropriate that the Central Bank paused in its interest rate hiking cycle in January, there is little scope, as The Bank agrees, to cut interest rates, at least until shortages of foreign exchange are ameliorated.
“The mission met with Government officials, banks, and private sector representatives to assess the foreign exchange legal framework and market practices and conditions, including the widespread shortages of foreign exchange, to ascertain whether there are measures in place which may give rise to exchange restrictions or multiple currency practices.”
“The financial system remains sound, but some reform legislation has been lagging. Accordingly, the mission welcomes the Government’s intention to push forward with passing long-delayed insurance legislation, while improving the supervision of credit unions and systemically important financial institutions is also a priority.
“Structural reforms remain key to unlocking the country’s growth and diversification potential. The mission welcomes the continued emphasis on improving the business environment and streamlining Government “make-work” programs to help alleviate shortages of less-skilled labor. The Government has initiated a much needed review of GATE, which we trust will better focus the educational system. Procurement reform, a key Government priority, is needed to assure contractors of an even playing field and reduce perceptions of corruption. The Government has also made a strong start on the urgent need to reform the country’s statistics agency, with a view to turning it into a strong and independent National Statistical Institute.
‘The authorities were in broad agreement with the mission’s assessment, and the mission wishes to express its gratitude towards the authorities for their candor and gracious cooperation and hospitality throughout our stay.”
Women’s Leadership Seminar 2016 – Photo Album
Date: Thursday 12th May, 2016
Event: AMCHAM T&T Annual General Meeting 2016
Address by AMCHAM T&T President Ravi Suryadevara
Ravi Speech Luncheon AGM 2016
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