Trinidad and Tobago Chamber optimistic after mid-year review

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Finance Minister Colm Imbert. – Photo courtesy Parliament

THE Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce (TT Chamber) on June 8 praised Minister of Finance Colm Imbert and government for the economic initiatives outlined in the mid-year review of the 2023/2024 budget.

Imbert presented the Mid-Year Budget Review – Finance (Supplementary Appropriation) (Financial Year 2024) Bill, during the June 7 sitting of the House of Representatives at the Red House in Port of Spain.

The TT Chamber, in a news release, said Imbert outlined key economic initiatives for 2024, which it views as crucial for stimulating economic growth and development in our country.

“The T&T Chamber is optimistic that the initiatives outlined in the mid-year review have the potential to positively impact the business community and the overall economic landscape. As the country’s largest business organisation, we continue to make recommendations to address the challenges to the ease of doing business. We believe that some of the measures mentioned by the Minister of Finance will lead to increased business opportunities, job creation, and sustainable growth for Trinidad and Tobago,” it stated.

The TT Chamber said the proposed budget increase, with significant allocations to critical sectors such as healthcare, education, infrastructure and social services, represents a positive step towards fostering sustainable economic growth.

It stated, “The TT Chamber recognises the government’s efforts in addressing youth unemployment through new programmes aimed at skills training and entrepreneurship support. This investment in human capital is essential for future economic development and is targeted at addressing gaps within the labour market.

“We are optimistic that these measures will support both current and future demand for skilled labour across various industries.

“The allocation of funds to support SMEs (small and medium enterprises) through the SME Development Fund and the focus on digital transformation and renewable energy projects are particularly welcomed by the business community. These initiatives align with the TT Chamber’s strategic direction.”

The chamber said the need for tough fiscal measures is linked to oil and gas prices.

“The reality is that oil and gas prices for the first six months of FY 2024 have been below the prices on which the FY 2024 budget was based (US$85 per barrel of oil and US$5 per MMBtu for natural gas).

“These lower prices, coupled with the fact that oil and gas production for the first half of FY 2024 has been 15 per cent and five per cent respectively lower than budgeted, highlight the stark reality that unless prudent fiscal measures are undertaken to improve economic conditions, such projected growth may be tempered.”

With respect to VAT refunds, the TT Chamber said it would continue to advocate for measures being taken to clear the backlog that affects many companies that are owed refunds for “for extended periods.”

The ongoing foreign exchange shortage it said has “created challenges for the business sector.”

“The inability to access forex has led to delays in payments to foreign suppliers, which in turn, strains relationships with these suppliers. Delays in payments for shipments have also slowed down business operations, leading to increased costs that are ultimately passed on to consumers.”

“While the forex challenge impacts everyone, it has been significantly disruptive for micro enterprises and SMEs, who may be forced to use private credit cards or resort to the black market to access forex.”

It said solutions such as the foreign exchange facility proposed for SMEs in the last budget should be implemented in the near future to address these issues.

The TT Chamber said the IMF’s projection for economic growth after decades of deficit budgets is quite positive news that could inspire confidence in the Trinidad and Tobago economy and potentially lead to further investments.