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Tobago businesses gear up to export

Published: 
Sunday, June 10, 2018
Crisen Maharaj, Manager, Capacity Building and Programme Financing, exporTT, left, and Deborah Hoyte, Business Advisor, exporTT. PICTURE ANISTO ALVES

Tobago’s economy has traditionally been tourism driven, so the nature of their businesses and livelihoods are in many ways different from Trinidad’s. There are also nuances in Tobago and challenges that the island’s small companies and businesses face which Trinidad’s businesses do not encounter.

For this reason, exporTT launched a training initiative for Tobago businesses in February to help them get ready for export markets, says Crisen Maharaj, the agency’s Manager, Capacity Building and Programme Financing.

The 11 Tobago businesses on the programme are Tobago’s Own Company Limited, Anthea Treasure Trove, Teabago Teas, Springtime Food Production, Tavaco, Just Bee You Beauty Products, Nu Impact Solutions Limited, Aunty Met’s Mixed Bay Leaf Powder, Osanie Designs, Chenseya’s Fishing and Nola.

Tobago’s manufacturing sector is made up of mainly agro-processors in the food and beverage sectors and the potential of the island’s branded products is being supported by exporTT with interventions aimed at exposing entrepreneurs to the intricacies involved in providing an internationally competitive product.

Deborah Hoyte, Business Advisor for Services, Direct Assistance Grant Scheme (DAGS) at exporTT, said the export competitiveness and development programmes for Tobago came out of the recognition that companies on the island require a different focus.

“Trinidad companies have been exposed to a number of interventions which have built their export capacity over the years. They have experienced missions abroad through exporTT and financial assistance,” she said.

Maharaj said Tobago companies produce in smaller capacities from facilities that are not yet fully developed, so business plans have been developed to meet their specific needs

“It is not part of our mandate but it is a necessary step before we create exporters. We sent out a questionnaire, we identified 13 suitable companies to work with as the first cohort of the programme,” he explained

These businesses are involved in diverse activities, including tea, beauty products, hand made paper products, bath and body, soaps, fish processing and household chemicals.

“All are new to exports. Some may have sent abroad but not consistently and not large large shipments. They cannot count as exports, more like suitcase trade or smaller. Not a consistent supply of export produce,” Maharaj said.

He said some of the challenges Tobago businesses face include getting their products on international markets because there is no port in Tobago .

“The only way they could export directly from Tobago would be via air courier. With the companies we have now we are talking about consolidating shipments to come to Trinidad like smaller batches for the companies already on the project. This is to have them work together as one consolidated unit like a co-operative.”

Hoyte pointed out that the problem is even more complicated as apart from getting goods out of Tobago, there are problems to get raw materials into the island.

“The cost of going through the national couriers is very prohibitive and makes Tobago’s businesses very uncompetitive when compared to similar products in the market. That is one of the reasons that hindered their export development,” she said.

Hoyte said almost all of the manufacturers in Tobago do it out of their homes and despite limitations there is great potential with their products for national and export markets.

The week before Carnival, the Ministry of Culture staged a craft market at the National Academy for Performing Arts (NAPA) in Port-of-Spain and five Tobago businesses took part. Hoyte said the exercise as a success.

Innovative products

Maharaj said exporTT is looking at businesses with high mark up, small quantity and niche products.

“What they have are specialty items that could go into specialty stores at a high mark up with a good story to go. That is the type of focus we want to take,” he said.

For example, he explained, Teabago produces herbal tea products and has an interesting story to go along with the product. Tovaco—the original aboriginal name for Tobago—makes wine from local fruits.

“That is what Tobago is producing. They have an amazing repertoire of ideas. They are totally innovative,” Hoyte said.

However, exporTT is not doing it alone. The agency is working with the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) is currently being worked out which will cover capacity building, resource training and export promotion.

Training in progress

Maharaj said that exporTT’s training programme with Tobago businesses is going well and so far they have helped the entrepreneurs to develop business plans.

“We do not want a classroom exercise, we want a working exercise that they can follow and use as a road map,” he said.

Future training sessions will deal with marketing and branding. Hoyte said there are plans to showcase the best companies at this year’s Trade and Investment Convention (TIC).

The current training cycle ends in January 2019 and will be followed by another where exporTT hopes to attract businesses from the services sector.

According to Hoyte, although the businesses on the programme are not ready to export as yet, their understanding of what is required is much more advanced.

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