WITH the looming foreign exchange crisis plaguing the country, big food retail chains, such as PriceSmart, are utilising more local manufacturers to stock their shelves.
That’s the revelation from Dhanraj Harrypersad, acting general manager at exporTT in speaking with Express Business last Friday. He said since last year PriceSmart has been allowing many more local manufacturers to supply them.
“Even locally manufactured tissues are being exported to other PriceSmart countries. In the past they may have passed up on it, but they’re now working directly with manufacturers.
“I’ve heard about the reduction in imports and empty shelves, so this may be a good opportunity for more of our exporters to get into PriceSmart, if they can’t get the products from foreign suppliers.”
In December, PriceSmart announced to its shoppers that its regular sourcing and merchandising of imported goods may be affected due to foreign currency becoming less available.
Harrypersad also identified a setback that is emerging in shipping costs, which have increased substantially particularly for raw materials. This his taken a toll on getting products in and out.
Chiming in at this point, Ashmeer Mohamed, chairman of exporTT, said higher shipping costs is an international issue.
“It’s not one that is unique to our country; the whole world is facing an increase because of the pandemic and vessels are not able to leave as frequently. So shipments have been reduced, shipping takes longer, and manufactures now have to place orders way in advance because shortages are also expected,” Mohamed said.
Harrypersad said a trend that is being observed by exporTT is that exports are increasing and local manufacturers are now exporting to countries where p reviously they had no presence.
He explained that the data exporTT collects on a monthly basis showed that exports slowed down between March-May, due to the lockdown and curfews that were in place globally. However, exports bounced back quickly from June onwards and are increasing.
“What we have been seeing is because of the lack of foreign exchange more local businesses are trying to get involved in exports, especially from the agricultural sector, as you would now be earning your own foreign exchange and would not have to depend on the financial institutions for the currency.”
Another positive aspect Harrypersad pointed out is that there is a boom in the chocolate industry, with the emergence of a lot of chocolate manufacturers.
He said: “We are not just exporting cocoa beans, but value added products such as chocolate bars, cocoa powder and cocoa drinks, so that has been coming to the fore and increasing exports.”
Going into further detail on the cocoa industry, Mohamed said some manufacturers, such as Trinidad and Tobago Fine Cocoa Company, are making great strides, working with large international companies to get their products out to the international market.
He also stated that exporTT is working with Tobago Estates that is producing and selling their chocolates in the European market.
“Tobago Estates sells more than 90 per cent of its chocolates in Europe and they recently obtained a US Department of Agriculture Organic Certification, which allows them to sell their products in the European market,” Mohamed stated.
Harrypersad said on Monday the $20 million certification programme began for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) which is part of the Export Booster Initiative that was launched in February by Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon.
Businesses earning less than $1 million in exports are eligible for 100 per cent funding; businesses making less than $2 million are eligible for 75 per cent and those making between $2 million and $4 million can get 50 per cent.
“Manufacturers whose products provide a substitute for imported goods will also be covered, and the manufacturers whose products substitute less than $25 million in imported products will receive 100 per cent funding for their certification costs up to $500,000.”
He said exporTT will allocate $1.5 million to provide in-market promotion activities, which include shelf stocking fees, shipping of samples for tastings and in-store promotions and this initiative will target 20 companies.
A virtual expo will also be established for continuous use across multiple sectors aimed at providing buyers with 24/7 access to local exporters.
According to Harrypersad, Tobago companies would have access to the $20 million programme as well.
He said the aim is to get Tobago companies to export more. So far he said five companies are currently exporting; this has generated a 25 to 30 per cent increase in their sales.
Harrypersad also noted that the grant funding of $250,000 for manufacturing companies to buy equipment and expand their business has been doing well thus far.
He expanded on the fact that Caribbean Airlines Cargo has recently partnered with the promotion agency to better connect local businesses to regional and international markets.
Mohamed said through this alliance, first-time exporters will benefit from discounts of five to ten per cent off freight to and from destinations served directly by Caribbean Airlines Cargo. Additionally, discounts of five per cent off freight will be offered to all exporters on the shipment of samples to these destinations.
In accelerating export promotion, Mohamed indicated that the company has a trade facilitation office in Cuba and it has been assisting companies in Trinidad to export to Cuba.
“Earlier this year, we had VEMCO getting their shipments to Cuba. Trinidad and Tobago is the largest exporter to Cuba and this is based on having an office in that country. We expect this to grow as exporTT is seeing more companies getting orders from Cuba.”
In the Export Booster Initiative, he said there are also plans to expand trade facilitation offices in places such as Panama and the Dominican Republic.