Manning: US$400m in forex made available to importers during pandemic

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister in the Ministry of Finance Brian Manning. –

Minister in the Ministry of Finance Brian Manning has said, as of May 31, US$400 million in foreign exchange (forex) was made available to established importers to bring in essential supplies.

He was speaking during the American Chamber of Commerce of TT (Amcham TTs) annual general meeting at the Hilton, Port of Spain, on Wednesday.

“At the start of the pandemic, strict lockdown measures had to be implemented to curb the spread of the virus while fiscal support, in the form of short-term grants and cash transfers, was provided to help the most vulnerable groups.”

Manning said the government provided support to enable business continuity and access to capital through a number of programmes including the special import forex window for established importers.

He also said the loan guarantee programme was previously offered in 2020 to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with an initial resource backing of $300 million.

“In that initial programme, the total value of loans accessed amounted to $37.3 million.

“At the request of the SME sector, a phase two of the programme was finalised in September 2021 at a value of $196.0 million…As of May 30, 2022, 387 loans have been disbursed under Phase II with a total value of $80.1 million.”

A $30 million entrepreneurial relief grant facility, Manning said, was administered by the National Entrepreneurial Development Company (Nedco) and made available to small and micro business operators with annual revenues of less than $1 million. The facility was extended by the government on March 31.

“All of these measures, coupled with the advancements made in vaccinating the population, have helped the normalisation of activity by enabling the reopening of the economy.”

Manning said the government aims to transform the economy from being oil and gas dependent to focus on generating revenues and foreign exchange from a broader range of sectors.

He said initiatives under the Ministries of Finance and Trade and Industry aim to support the diversification of the economy.

“In 2018, the Ministry of Finance introduced the Eximbank Manufacturing Forex Facility at the request of the TT Manufacturers’ Association in order to provide improved access to foreign exchange for manufacturers engaged in export activity, and in 2021 the facility was expanded to include all manufacturing enterprises with an export plan.”

He said as of May 31, US$309 million in forex has been sold to 126 manufacturers, with 83 per cent being in the SME category.

Manning said the Ministry of Trade has also established programmes such as the grant fund facility, administered by ExporTT, through which SMEs involved in production of high value-added products and services can access grants up to $250,000 to finance new capital requirements and expenditure.

Manning highlighted several other initiatives which focus on digital transformation. He said, leading the thrust is the Ministry of Digital Transformation which has implemented initiatives such as e-ID – a government-owned, operated and issued unique digital identifier for each person.

“The government of TT…has positioned the economy for the strong rebound now being experienced.

“The business community and the population at large can therefore be assured of a positive outlook for the prospects of our economy.”

AmchamTT president Toni Sirju-Ramnarine also said the effect of the ongoing pandemic, climate change and recent geopolitical tensions continue to disrupt business.

“Against this backdrop, companies have been forced to make many difficult decisions to stay alive and afloat. But in the midst of these tumultuous times, many promising opportunities have also arisen.”

Sirju-Ramnarine said AmchamTT will be hosting its fourth edition of the Tech Hub Islands Summit from July 6-8 at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain, featuring speakers including global technology team lead for infrastructure modernisation at Google Cloud David White.

She said investing in technology is imperative to pushing business forward.

“We have seen how technology can transform the way companies produce and sell their goods and services.

“We know the potential it has to open up new markets and new business models, resulting in higher levels of productivity, production, and profits to grow the economy. What we require more of now are the structural changes to promote innovation.”