Arthur Hall, Senior News Editor
Local manufacturers are failing to take advantage of a big demand in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) for Jamaican products despite a widening trade gap between the two countries.
Official figures show Jamaica with a US$683.94-million trade deficit with T&T last year and indications are that this could have widened this year.
However, Trinidadian manufacturers say the one-way flow of goods is neither welcome nor appreciated.
"Economic development only comes with two-way trade ... that is when trading really starts to happen and we have a great market down here," said Nicholas Lok Jack, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers' Association (TTMA) as he met with journalists from The Gleaner during the newspaper's visit to the twin-island republic last week.
"It is not three million people, but it is a high-price market," added Lok Jack as he argued that Trinidadians would buy any product that was properly packaged and of good quality.
Lok Jack rejected claims that several barriers had been set up to prevent Jamaican goods into Trinidad and pointed out that during a recent World Trade Organisation study in Jamaica, there were no complaints about getting goods into the twin-island republic.
According to Loc Jack, Jamaican manufacturers have always looked to areas outside the region such as the United States and the United Kingdom, where there is a large group of Jamaicans, as their main international markets.
"The question needs to be asked why are some Jamaican manufacturers doing fantastic business in Trinidad and Tobago? I mean Grace (Kennedy) does fantastic business down here and we probably need to look at what is it in the DNA of a Grace that allows them to do that."
But with questions still being raised about the problems which Jamaica had getting its patties into T&T, the manufacturers said while there was no problem in accepting the product, the beef that was used came from countries which had foot-and-mouth disease in the past and under the rules this could not be allowed entry.
"As much as they said Trinidad stopped the patties, all we were saying was just meet the process and we would do anything to facilitate you," declared Mahindra Ramdeen, chief executive officer of the TTMA.
"We allowed the patties to come in and only two Jamaican patty manufacturers have since met the rules, even though the situation has not been fully ratified as yet," added Ramdeen, as he noted that the CARICOM Secretariat has not fully certified the product.
He declared that Jamaica and Trinidad need each other as trading partners.
"Trinidad and Tobago's import bill is TT$4 billion and we import a lot of this stuff from extraregional sources. We could source a lot of this from Jamaica and Guyana, but we have not yet sorted out the phytosanitary issues.
"If we could get it from Jamaica and Guyana, it would be cheaper because we would not have to pay the duties that we do when we get it from extraregional sources," said Ramdeen.
In the meantime, Naika Pichi-Ayers, head of the Jamaica-T&T Trade Facilitation Desk at the TTMA said not enough was being said about the work being done to improve trade between the two countries.
According to Pichi-Ayers, she has to be appealing to Jamaican entities to seek support to sort out any issue they might have in getting into the Trinidadian market before things get out of proportion.
"I have been working with Jamaican companies for months to ensure they are compliant, and when we get to the point of approval they just give up," lamented Pichi-Ayers.
"So much effort wasted and they give up when they get so close to the market," added Pichi-Ayers as she noted that often times the companies don't say why they give up on Trinidad.