Crime, along with other issues affecting T&T, should not be an impediment to doing business here, said Brian Frontin, chairman of invesTT, the state-run investment promotion agency aligned to the Ministry of Trade and Industry. His statement comes as this country prepares to host the international and regional business community for the May 14 to 15 Caribbean Investment Forum (CIF). Speaking to Business Guardian after the April 10 launch of CIF at the Hilton Trinidad, St Ann’s, Frontin said: “If you get enough people learning that their problems are not unique to T&T, like the issues of crime, higher interest cost, labour issues, then the whole conversation becomes a very smaller landscape and then, you can actually share conversations that lead to joint ventures/trading partner arrangements. “It is about building relationships first and foremost, but also exposing people to the fact that we are not different with our issues.”
Illustrating his point about how effective having conversations with business people from different territories can be, Frontin referred to the Panama Canal expansion project. “I know Jamaica is positioning a lot to receive that premier port development. We at invesTT are looking at the transshipment points around the Gulf and other parts of T&T to also become an area to receive both transshipment, ship building and dry docking facilities. “You see how one conversation from one chief executive officer can translate into a wider conversation within two major territories in the region? Expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to be completed by 2014. Frontin, who has attended similar CIF-type conferences in other parts of the world, spoke on the importance of T&T’s presence in those conferences. “These territories are well-developed, they have strong entrepreneurial bases and they see business as the primary way to move an economy. They don’t rely too much on governmental projects and infrastructural projects .... They also have very less oil and gas dependencies
“India, London, Australia, or instance, we visited, it does not have very strong natural resources as reserves, but yet their entrepreneurial sector is very strong.
“The way of consolidating all of these trips is to see what they have best and how we can mirror some of the programmes internationally.” With hundreds expected to attend CIF 2012, Frontin said one of the biggest challenges is logistics. “I would say getting confirmed speakers. We started awhile ago, but schedules have changed. I don’t think participation is the issue. The cost of participating (in the conference) is fairly reasonable for a conference of this nature. “The participation is always good; the logistics around getting speakers confirmed, booking hotels, flights, schedules, pick-ups and even the transition between sessions. Observing last year, we decided to put more buffer time in the changeover of rooms in the Hilton between one segment to another, to avoid the crunch when one session has run over its time and then, you have people to exit the room and move from manufacturing to maritime and you have speakers standing outside (the room). Frontin said he’s aware of many business people from India expressing an interest and some want to do business with T&T and Latin America.
Referring to a meeting he had with those investors in India in January this year, Frontin said: “Their reasons for approaching T&T when we were there (in India), were not just T&T specific, but, how do they access the Latin American regions? How do they access the Caribbean and to be here in T&T where they had that first contact point and experience one week (of CIF)—it is ‘bang for the buck.’ You stay at a hotel for two days and you meet all these people versus a delegation which would come for a selective sector specific.”
Trade and Industry Minister Stephen Cadiz:
Minister Cadiz, referring to Panama’s expected presence at the CIF, said T&T’s trade relations with that country is mainly for the export of goods, but there are other areas which T&T can adopt. “Panama has a huge services industry and that is something we would start looking at as soon as we have finished Guatemala and El Salvador. We will start working the Panama agreement and open the negotiation.”