WHILE the Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on the world’s economies, various sectors in Trinidad and Tobago continue to show their resilience.
Covid-19 impacted the retail sector hard because the lockdowns and layoffs reduced the aggregate income in the domestic economy as well as making people with jobs and income to be more cautious about how they spend their money.
In its 2021 Year in Review, the Express Business spoke to a few key persons in the manufacturing, energy and business sectors, about how their respective industries feared for a second year dealing with the deadly virus that has disrupted the world’s economies.
Chief executive officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry Commerce Gabriel Faria, said the pandemic has severely impacted the small and medium enterprises and the self-employed, but the financial impact has not been felt equally amongst small business owners.
“While some are getting back on their feet, a significant percentage continue to struggle. Covid has had a profound impact on the finances of self-employed people, and it’s clear for many small businesses, the crisis is far from over,” he told the Express Business.
In giving an outlook for the sector, Faria said the reality is the strong, cash-and-asset rich have fared relatively well, as was evident with the results of the companies on the T&T Stock Exchange. This also applies to the banks whose results show they have not been negatively impacted.
“Many small and medium businesses have closed their physical locations, either opting to sell online or even from their homes. There are industries and individuals whose businesses have been closed for almost two years and they have had to change their business models or get into new types of businesses. Many just closed their doors, while others suffered significant declines in turnover resulting in operating losses.”
According to Faria, this crisis has created a practical and ethical imperative for Trinbagonians to focus less on our own agendas.
“There are opportunities, however we need Government, labour and business to come together with a congruence of goals focused on restarting the economy by saving lives and livelihoods. This means we must achieve a vaccination level of 80 per cent by the middle of 2022 for the latest and the Government must also provide meaningful support to the MSMEs,” the Chamber CEO said.
New stores in the pandemic
Earlier this month Express Business highlighted First Retail Inc which opened its second Aeropostale store in Trincity Mall.
That opening brought to 11 the number of stores the group opened up during the pandemic.
Managing director of the group of companies, 37-year-old Omar Hadeed said it has been a very difficult period, but as a sector that has faced numerous shifts in the past few years, the group was able to adapt and continue to expand within a space that has faced challenges from all angles.
“There have been many discussions about whether e-commerce would gobble up brick-and-mortar stores but the two are closely linked and must work hand in hand,” he said.
Despite setbacks due to the lockdowns, Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association (TTMA) president Tricia Coosal said from the reports coming out of the Ministries of Trade & Industry and Finance, non-energy export figures for 2021 have surpassed 2020 figures.
“The non-energy manufacturing sector recognised that it was imperative that they continue to produce and supply the export market. Our producers not only continued to produce to facilitate local demand, but ensured regional food supplies were not hampered and/or curtailed in any deleterious manner.”
Coosal emphasised that notwithstanding the challenges, many manufacturing companies were able to expand their operations beyond their previous levels of exports.
“Kamri Investments was able to export containers to Jamaica and Guyana by mid-2021 and have also secured orders from St Lucia, Barbados and Curaçao; RHS Marketing Ltd expanded to new regional markets such as Martinique and secured new orders in North America; the HADCO group of Companies, Nestle, Blue Waters, CGA, Label House, SM Jaleel, Advanced Foam, ANSA McAL and Associated Brands Industries Ltd (ABIL), among many others, are all doing well in the regional and international markets.”
Questioned on whether manufacturing companies had to shut their doors, the TTMA president said no company belonging to the association has signalled to them that they have been forced to close their doors.
“Some may have, due to circumstances (shut down period and limited demand based on ports and borders being closed- morphed their operations, downsized in some instances, curtailed production in others, but no one completely closed their doors.”
Coosal said in 2022 the TTMA will be positioning itself to continue to assist members with stability and expansion.
“It is our hope, all things being equal, we will be able to host our Trade and Investment Convention in 2022, which will generate great economic activities for local suppliers and manufacturers.”
In an interview in July, Associated Brands Industries Ltd, a local manufacturer and distributor of snack foods, chocolate confectionery, biscuits and breakfast cereals said it was seeking to enter new export markets, as 65 per cent of the company’s revenue is earned in foreign exchange.
In September, its signature candy bar Catch began selling in the Republic of Cyprus, which is located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Its executive director Nicholas Lok Jack, 43, said discussions involved three years of back and forth, searching markets, getting the right distributor and also getting distributors who are on the same wavelength.
The businessman further noted that while Catch is in 20 other markets, there are some markets that are more mature and some markets where ABIL is still consolidating its position.
Despite the pandemic and supply chain challenges, the energy sector has managed to deliver major new gas development projects over the past year and new developments are also in the pipeline. That’s according to Energy Chamber chief executive officer and president Dr Thackwray Driver.
Driver revealed that the rebound in commodity prices during the year has obviously provided a welcome boost to operators and has helped the industry recover from an even more difficult prior year.
He noted that the clear recognition by the Government of both the challenges posed by the energy transition and the opportunities that the transition will create has helped focus industry discussions on the longer-term future.
Looking at 2022, Driver said it would be important to move forward the decarbonisation agenda in parallel with this focus on attracting upstream investment and to take advantage of the opportunities that Trinidad & Tobago has in green and blue hydrogen, carbon capture utilisation and storage, energy efficiency, lower carbon fuels and renewable energy.
“Caribbean regional integration in energy services remains a major potential policy area to drive competitiveness and should be a focus for all regional governments as we emerge from the pandemic. The energy industry has been through a very difficult period but has continued to deliver for the citizens and the Energy Chamber is confident that it will continue to do so in the future,” Driver added.
Oil and gas company
Canada’s Touchstone Exploration, which operates on land in South Trinidad, said it achieved “significant progress” in 2020 and 2021.
Chief executive officer and shareholder Paul Baay, in an interview with Express Business in February, the company’s stock price on the Toronto Stock Exchange last year February was US$0.35 and earlier this year the stock sat at around US$2.50.
That increased the overall value of the company from US$30 million to about US$500 million. He attributed the increase in the company’s value to the discoveries in Trinidad.
Asked how much capital expenditure Touchstone expected to spend into 2022 in Trinidad, Baay said about US$24 million.
But he added that assuming all the gas production comes on stream as planned, the capital expenditure could be about US$40 million for 2022.
In September, Touchstone Exploration stated its Royston-1 exploration well encountered substantial hydrocarbon accumulations based on drilling and wireline log data.
The company said an aggregate 393 gross feet of hydrocarbon pay was identified in two unique thrust sheets in the Herrera sands from 9,700 feet to total depth, with wireline logs indicating that the well was in hydrocarbon pay at total depth.
And earlier this month, the Canadian based company announced light oil discoveries at its onshore Trinidad Royston-1 exploration well.
“The recovered oil was light, sweet crude with an average 33-degree API (corrected to 60-degree Fahrenheit) with sampling throughout flow testing indicating an average 94 per cent oil cut with some solution gas present but not measured,” the company said.
It said the first and deepest Royston-1 completion and exploration test was designed to evaluate an interval at the bottom of the well in the intermediate sheet of the Herrera Formation.