ExporTT general manager: Help for Tobago entrepreneurs

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Damian Stewart, front, owner of Easy Goers Bicycle Rentals, repairs a bike alongside employee Edward Bonas, at his Store Bay Local Road, Tobago business.
– David Reid

EFFORTS are being made to help small entrepreneurs in Tobago to better market their products.

ExporTT general manager Dhanraj Harrypersad made this comment during a virtual meeting with members of the Finance and Legal Affairs Joint Select Committee (JSC).

Committee chair Hazel Thompson-Ahye, who is Tobagonian, admitted to having a sweet tooth as she asked Harrypersad about how entrepreneurs who sell products like bene balls and fudge (in Tobago) and sugar cakes (in Trinidad) were being helped during the covid19 pandemic.

Harrypersad said indigenous food producers in Tobago benefited significantly from sales to tourists (local and foreign) in the pre-pandemic period. “What we recognised specifically in Tobago is that we have multiple producers of those indigenous products. However, the standards were not the same. Most of them lacked certain capacities.”

He said the company is undertaking a $2.1 million project aimed at helping these kinds of entrepreneurs in Tobago to improve their capacities, in terms of local sales and possibly exports. The project also involves getting ten Tobago exporters onto an e-commerce platform to better market their products and building out a factory space to allow Tobago entrepreneurs, who operate out of their kitchens, to meet certain import requirements to improve their businesses.

Compared to their Trinidad counterparts, Harrypersad continued, Tobago entrepreneurs face distinct challenges such as accessing raw materials to develop their final products. Local entrerpreneurs could also benefit from TT’s current participation in Expo 2020, currently taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The expo was originally scheduled to run from October 20, 2020-April 10, 2021. It was postponed because of the pandemic and will now run from October 1, 2021-March 31, 2022. A total of 192 countries are participating.

Finance Ministry strategic management execution office director Enid Zephyrine said a total of 230 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) had applied successfully to the SME loan facility, which Finance Minister Colm Imbert referred to in his 2022 budget presentation on October 4.

With approximately $500 million being used to help SMEs during the pandemic, government member Marvin Gonzales was concerned that many businesses still may not be able to access various grant facilities being offered by Government, because they cannot meet certain basic statutory requirements. He suggested some kind of programme be developed to bring small businesses that are operating in the informal sector to a place where they can better access government financial assistance, should they need it.