Interview: Racquel Moses
What segments are best positioned to receive foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2016?
RACQUEL MOSES: There are several industries that are ready to welcome FDI, given T&T’s comparative advantages. Although some of these industries – being relatively under-explored areas – have the capacity to attract relatively low levels of investment in the short term, they have the potential to grow over time as a larger ecosystem is built, especially in terms of human resources. One example of this is the aviation services industry – a new core industry of our diversification strategy. Based on discussions with prospective investors and sector experts, the industry can currently attract only a modest maintenance, repair and overhaul entity (MRO) due to the budding nature of the resource development initiative.
In 2013 the University of T&T (UTT) started an aviation programme, and they project that the country could attract a much larger MRO in just three years. By that time, UTT will have produced around 50 graduates with a bachelor’s degree in aircraft maintenance and management and will have certified over 200 people in aviation technology.
What do you think is the most advanced large-scale investment opportunity in manufacturing?
MOSES: On the basis of a recent feasibility study, T&T is a competitive location for the creation of a silicon industrial cluster, given the ultra-low cost of production, availability of silica sand in Guyana, and the preferential market and often duty-free access to over 1bn people. The complex is designed to include four plants: metallurgical silicon, polysilicon, float glass and an integrated photovoltaic manufacturing plant. There is particular interest for a float glass plant in Trinidad, given the diverse range of applications float glass has, primarily in the construction industry. Discussions with potential investors are at an advanced stage and, once due diligence processes are completed, could lead to a $185m commitment to begin building a plant in 2017.
How should improvements to the ease of doing business in T&T be prioritised?
MOSES: The recent addition of new e-services to the single electronic window platform, TTBizLink, proves the continuous commitment to improving the ease of doing business in T&T. As the one-stop shop for FDI, we are working with TTBizLink to make sure that investors’ requirements are prioritised. In the next few months we expect additional improvements to this process. Issues that have come through our agency reveal that there are some low-hanging fruits that should be addressed, such as access to land and government bureaucracy. With respect to the former, we need an electronically managed national land bank. This would significantly boost efficiency with respect to the way we assign land to different projects. In terms of bureaucracy, for the sake of efficiency there is a need to decentralise some decision-making away from the central government. There is a clear need to empower government agencies and streamline decisions. We need to stop penalising action while passively rewarding inaction.
How successful has T&T been in attracting investment in the food industry?
MOSES: In 2015 the T&T Fine Cocoa Company established the country’s first cocoa downstream processing plant as a joint-venture between the government and a UK investor. The government’s role was to make the land and facilities available for operations. Following a $1m investment, the plant now processes 240 kg of cocoa per week to produce cocoa liquor, cocoa nibs and chocolates. The chocolates are being sold at Harrods in the UK. The company is now looking at processing cocoa from a range of certified farmers and becoming a wholesale producer for the industry.
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