AGM 2016 - President's Speech

Annual General Meeting 2016

President's Opening Remarks by Ravi Suryadevara

Partnerships For Growth And Prosperity 

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to extend a warm welcome to the 23rd Annual General Meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago. A lot has transpired since the last AGM. It has been a year that has seen tectonic shifts in financial markets and renewables starting to seriously take their place in the world economic agenda. The fundamental parameters by which we have developed over the last four decades as an oil and gas province have changed. There is significant global competition for the investment dollar from which we, as a country currently benefit. The operating fundamentals in the geographic space are changing as the United States of America exports crude and related products in the coming years. 

At the last AGM, we cautioned that kicking the can of structural reform down the road could not be an option as we saw the road coming to an end. And it has ended. The present economic challenges have affected and will continue to affect our country, AMCHAM T&T as an organization, our member organizations and all of us in our individual lives for some time to come.

Through all of this, my fellow Officers of the Board, fellow Directors of the Board, CEO, Committee Chairs and Vice-Chairs, the Secretariat, and you the members have been steadfast pillars of support, encouragement and effort. My gratitude to you all as it is through this display by you, the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago is once again leading the charge on trade, investment, and business advocacy not only within Trinidad and Tobago but also as the Pathway to the Americas. At AMCHAM T&T we not only talk about the principle of partnerships for growth and prosperity, we also make this a reality.
So kindly permit me to provide some of the minutiae that are central to this conclusion. Since the last AGM, the focus of the Board of Directors and Officers of the Board has been on three priority areas, simply put:
1. External linkages
2. Internal structure and capacity development
3. Utilizing the first two areas to influence and advocate for member issues
The theme of this event is the foundation on which our efforts in one priority area, deepening and expanding external linkages.

External linkages 
We all awaited the election of September 2015, an election that resulted in a new Government. A new Government that has had to balance finding its fiscal footing, with producing policies and plans to enhance competitiveness, prosperity, and simultaneously inspiring trust in its ability to lead. 

AMCHAM T&T has made good on its promise to work with and provide support to the Government of Trinidad & Tobago, as we all try to come out of this period of adjustment in a stronger position than we were before. Among the official meetings we have had thus far are:
1. With ministries such as the Ministry of Trade & Investment and the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development. Most notably we are part of the recently appointed National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC), where we are represented by your CEO, Nirad. 
2. The Minister of Finance on, inter alia budget proposals and the issue of Tax reform. We submitted proposals both for the 2015/2016 Budget and the 2016 Mid-Year review to the Minister of Finance. 
3. We met with Attorney General, The Honourable Faris Al-Rawi, to discuss strengthening the office of the FIU and AMCHAM T&T’s unrepentant belief that white-collar crime and corruption are detrimental to productivity and competitiveness. 
4. We the new Central Bank Governor, Dr. Alvin Hillaire and discussed a number of policy areas, the long view on the economy, and the need for continuous engagement with AMCHAM T&T. 
5. Met with Minister of Public Utilities Brigadier General Ancil Antoine.

We are here to partner with the government and public sector entities for the growth and success of Trinidad and Tobago. We continue to engage numerous international organizations locally such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the UNDP and The European Union as well as our sister AMCHAMS and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce who are critical to our advocacy efforts hemispherically. A brilliant example of this is our very own Nick Galt, Chairman Emeritus, Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America and the Caribbean (ref: read MB letter to NG). Partial Proclamation of the Public Procurement and disposal of Public Property Act 2015 is another exceptional example of the outcome of our partnerships, in this case through the Private Sector Civil Society Group, PSCSG. We expect to re-invigorate this pursuit within the next year as the new government has had enough time to fit this critical piece of legislation into its legislative agenda.

During the past year, we have had the pleasure of partnering with many of you at AMCHAM T&T’s signature events. These events are not just meant to fill our social calendar, but they are a necessary avenue by which we inform and engage our membership. The Post Budget Panel discussion, The Economic Outlook 2016 and the most recent The Mid-year Review are all meant to create a safe space where we can converse and discuss pertinent issues that have implications for the way we do business. The National Youth Productivity Forum, which is now in its seventh iteration, created by the Trade and Investment Committee, has grown and accomplished what it was set out to do – which is positively impact the youth, by providing a vehicle towards enhanced scholastic performance and critical thinking. This is persuasively demonstrated by the fact that over the years several alumni of the program have been awarded national academic scholarships and including the 2014 President’s Medal winner, Sandeep Maharaj. Another wonderful example of the result of our partnerships.

The Fuel Peddlars Sub-Committee and Express Logistics Sub-Committee are classic models of AMCHAM T&T partnering with you our membership for specific industry group advocacy, in these cases ranging:
• from the re-balancing of the fuel subsidy to account for margins to operators that have not been indexed to inflation nor since any changes over the last ten years
• to the re-consideration of the 7% online shopping tax
As the Pathway to the Americas, we partner with international agencies as we continue to promote Trinidad & Tobago to the rest of the world, as we continue to afford you, our members, market access through these linkages and trade mission opportunities.

In the coming year, there are a number of initiatives that we would like to pursue but one of distinctive significance, the United States – Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016, being introduced in the US House of Representatives. This bill has the capacity to encourage and increase engagement with the governments of the Caribbean, the Caribbean diaspora community in the United States and the private sector civil society. If the bill is passed, it will require the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to submit to Congress a multi-year strategy focused on outreach to the countries of the Caribbean and diaspora communities in the U.S. Another issue we believe will yield many benefits, one we raised early last year, is making Trinidad & Tobago a site for Pre-Clearance into the United States. You will definitely hear more about these initiatives within the coming year. These initiatives are based on the foundational partnership we enjoy with the U. S. Embassy and our new Ambassador to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Ambassador Estrada. It is also a year ahead in which there is some sadness in this relationship as Charge D’Affaires, and now Deputy Chief of Mission Margret Diop, will be leaving. From myself and all of us present here, wishing you God’s Blessings and much success in your future endeavors but most of all, for the magnificent person that we have grown to know and care for. May happiness reside with you, where ever you are. 

As I prepare to conclude, it would be remiss of me not to highlight some developing issues. The Policy prescriptions seemingly shift in intent through debates in the lower and upper houses. Prescriptions intended for revenue generation are being realized as revenue marginal at best and shifting focus to behaviour modification. Further, these are not considered to be material and relevant to the present deficit which leads one to the conclusion that perhaps more is to come. 

If so, we encourage early and meaningful consultation with stakeholders.

Many companies can provide real-time feedback on the economic challenges and are ready and willing to work with the government and other stakeholders to devise solutions that are material and relevant to the Policy prescriptions that require GORTT’s urgent attention. Partner with AMCHAM T&T. 

I have had members approaching me regarding the tone that is reflected publicly against business and the conduct within the legislature on all sides needs to be addressed. The rhetoric needs to quell as it is affecting confidence and dampening investment. The labelling and stereotyping need to abate. There are many businesses that are sacrificing now for a brighter future, choosing not to reduce headcount, have best practice in place, and are voluntarily compliant with all the jurisdictional requirements. The national inward focus needs to be balanced with international outward attractiveness. We will not recover by ourselves, and definitely not be able to thrive in the new world order of things by being reclusive or protectionist.

Our dependence on and seeming addiction to debt needs to be reined in. The growth of the over-draft in the Ex-Chequer account is highlighted in the Auditor General’s 2015 Report, in the attached Volume One Addendum. Past deficit budgets have fueled the current position. We would appreciate GORTT indicating its plan for use of private capital, local or foreign, through P3 modalities to executing projects. 

AMCHAM T&T will be using the next pre-budget cycle and participation in NTAC to highlight and make further recommendations for GORTT’s consideration and partner with the government to achieve a balanced position on these matters. 

In closing, I would like to recognize the work of service institutions such as AMCHAM T&T, as we all know that the current economic situation calls for us to come together to create credible and innovative solutions and support. This is why the theme of today’s AGM is Partnership for Growth and Prosperity. This has been illustrated in our collaboration with the Joint Chamber regarding most recently Industrial Relations Reform. You have our assurance that we will continue to seek your best interest in every alliance we make.

I know you will enjoy the rest of the proceedings as I am sure you eagerly await Norm’s and the Ambassador’s addresses, and their perspectives on partnering for growth and prosperity.
With that, I thank you for the privilege of your attention.


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