by Toni Sirju-Ramnarine
Toni Sirju-Ramnarine - AMCHAM T&T President
Good afternoon, everyone.
It is my pleasure to welcome you to AMCHAM T&T’s 29th Annual General Meeting and Business Forum.
I have to begin by saying how wonderful it is to be joining you here today IN PERSON after two years of virtual interactions. I know personally that it was difficult for me to take on this Presidency last year in the virtual space and have to deliver these remarks to a camera from home at the AGM, so I am indeed delighted to be here.
Let me assure you that these in-person and hybrid events are something we are intending to do more of now. Our Board and I are very much looking forward to having the opportunity to interact more with all of you.
And speaking of our Board, I warmly welcome our new and returning Directors to AMCHAM T&T’s Board of Directors. Thank you for the faith and confidence you have placed in me over this past year as President. I look forward to working and growing with you in the coming year.
This is an important year for us at AMCHAM T&T, as not only are we celebrating returning to in-person events, we are also celebrating a major milestone for our chamber.
We are celebrating our organisation’s 30th Anniversary. It may seem difficult to believe it now but the organisation that has faithfully served you so well over the past three decades started as a simple idea during a breakfast meeting among colleagues at the residence of the then US Ambassador.
For those of you who own or manage a company, you know that every great product, service or invention starts with having a simple idea – an idea that can solve a problem, transform societies, or even birth a new nation for a new era. We’d like to think that AMCHAM T&T has contributed significantly to our country’s private sector and the progress of our society.
There are many accomplishments we can reflect on that have added immense value to your businesses and have advanced development in our nation.
Some notable achievements include our 26 years of HSSE advocacy – AMCHAM T&T has been a leader in this sphere, and we can truly say that this has been transformational across many sectors in our society.
We have also hosted important trade missions to boost trade and investment opportunities, and we’ve strengthened our access to AACCLA whose board has consisted of several former and current AMCHAM T&T Directors and on which our Past President Patricia Ghany and our CEO Nirad Tewarie still currently sit.
This association with ACCLA has brought benefits, the most recent of which was securing a speaking spot for Massy Group CEO Gervase Warner at the recently concluded CEO Summit of the Americas three weeks ago.
Our work on gender equity has helped us to reach gender parity on our Board in 2020, which we maintained in 2021, and yet again in 2022. Meanwhile, our annual Women’s Leadership Conference continue to grow and draw widespread interest with this year’s conference having over 500 attendees registered.
More recently, we created THIS, the Tech Hub Islands Summit - our nation’s first major technology conference – at a time when, arguably, digital transformation wasn't yet quite seen as the imperative it is today.
These are all bright and shining examples of AMCHAM T&T's reach, influence, and relevance in representing the business interests of the private sector in an ever-evolving world.
As we celebrate these achievements, we also celebrate our members. Had it not been for your support coupled with the leadership shown by our past and current boards and respective committees, as well as the hard work of our CEO and Secretariat, we would not be able to celebrate these milestones and major victories. AMCHAM T&T thanks each of you for your unwavering support and we look forward to another 30 years of more wins shared with you.
This sets the tone for what I am going to speak about today: enabling recovery, growth, and resilience in the context of sustainable development in our nation.
The past two years have presented many setbacks to our lives and businesses. The impact of an ongoing pandemic, climate change, and recent geopolitical tensions arising both near and far from our region continues to disrupt business. Against this backdrop, companies have been forced to make many difficult decisions to stay alive and afloat. But in the midst of these tumultuous times, many promising opportunities have also arisen. Here is where I would like to speak about what AMCHAM T&T has been working on and will continue to progress this coming year to support our recovery, growth, and resilience.
Investing in Technology is a prime example. Today every company can be called a TECH company. For the past two years, technology has provided the fuel to sustain most of our operations in the wake of such unprecedented challenges. Looking ahead this is not going to change. Already, many companies have made the digital switch or are seeking to invest more in digital transformation.
For any of this to happen, we must start leveraging new technologies and applying them across all sectors of the economy to equally benefit all companies. Doing this will ensure that technology becomes a real enabler for innovation and development.
We have seen how technology can transform the way companies produce and sell their goods and services. We know the potential it has to open up new markets and new business models, resulting in higher levels of productivity, production, and profits to grow the economy.
What we require more of now are the structural changes to promote innovation. Therefore, building a thriving tech sector requires greater investment in research and development, advancing education, bridging the digital divide, and creating an easier regulatory environment to enable our entrepreneurs to start businesses more easily. Both the private and public sectors have to do this together, but we must make this a major priority within our operations and as part of our country’s economic agenda.
AMCHAM T&T’s promotion of technology is mainly to help solve problems by building a vibrant tech ecosystem to fuel the digital economy. In two weeks, we will be hosting the 4th edition of the Tech Hub Islands Summit (this), where we will hear from tech giants Bernard Meyerson, Chief Innovation Officer Emeritus at IBM and David White, Global Technology Team Lead for Infrastructure Modernization at Google Cloud. THIS 2022 will return to an in-person Conference and Exhibition on July 6th – 8th, 2022 at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain with the option to stream the summit and participate in a virtual exhibition on the virtual platform at techislands.net. We look forward to welcoming you to THIS 2022!
The second major initiative we have been progressing, which we believe has the potential to be truly transformational for our economy and is linked to national digital transformation, is developing a Nearshoring strategy, with a view to diversifying the economy and attracting investment in T&T.
We recently presented a policy paper developed by the AMCHAM T&T's Digital Transformation Committee and our Secretariat to the Minister of Trade & Industry and the Minister of Digital Transformation, both with whom we are currently working, alongside other agencies, to execute the strategies outlined in the paper.
Developing a nearshoring sector amidst the instabilities shaping our world right now may work in our favour as companies seek to move operations closer to home because of ongoing conflicts, supply chain concerns, the issues highlighted by the pandemic and climate change. The potential here for the development of this sector will result in viable export, foreign exchange earning opportunities, and increased jobs.
As we work to develop a detailed roadmap for this sector, AMCHAM T&T wishes to thank the Honourable Ministers Paula Gopee-Scoon & Hassel Bacchus and the teams from the Ministries of Trade and Industry & Digital Transformation for the collaboration and support on this initiative. We look forward to continued engagement to generate mutually desired results.
As we set the stage for recovery and growth towards sustainable development, we cannot ignore how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of climate change have emerged as serious threats to attracting investments. In response, companies are adopting Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) measures to thrive today and future-proof themselves from tomorrow's risks. This is why key investors, stakeholders and policymakers are now looking at companies with built-in, measurable ESG policies as a prerequisite for investment - a point made clear in a recent PwC 2021 Global Investor ESG Survey where 79% of investment professionals from 43 territories said their investment decision making hinges on the way a company manages ESG risks and opportunities.
Therefore, I take pleasure in announcing that AMCHAM T&T has established a stand-alone ESG Committee. AMCHAM T&T's ESG Committee will help track how the ESG/Sustainability standards are applied to Trinidad & Tobago while sharing information and best practice advice on current issues affecting the realms of ESG.
Thanks to the tremendous work of Mark Thomas and the UNDP office in Trinidad & Tobago, we will be able to share with our members and the wider business community, an ESG handbook that is tailored to the Caribbean context.
Having reviewed this handbook, I can tell you that it is very comprehensive, and for those of you who are looking to introduce ESG more deliberately into your businesses or to enhance your existing practices, this is an excellent resource.
So, I want you to feel confident in relying on us at AMCHAM T&T for assistance, as you progress this important area of ESG to make your businesses more resilient and improve overall social wellbeing.
That point brings me to the Rule of Law, another area AMCHAM T&T has been progressing. The key to an attractive and welcoming business environment begins with the predictable application of laws, policies, and processes. However, corruption – both actual corruption and the perception of corruption – a painfully slow justice system and violent crime pose major problems to both societal development and the ease of doing business.
We cannot build a resilient and cohesive society or conduct business in the absence of citizen security, fairness, and access to justice. There have been many solutions brought forward to help curb the rise of criminal activity. Ultimately, I believe the situation requires an "all-hands-on-deck" approach, for which AMCHAM T&T is committed to doing its part to help address these issues.
Our soon-to-be-established Rule of Law committee will provide additional resources, skills sharing, and knowledge transfer between the private sector and the government on this important national issue. We are delighted to have Mr Clive Fletcher, Managing Director at Unicomer who will chair this committee which will include representatives from the US Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago, The Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute and the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago.
We must all work together to create a society rooted in good governance and high levels of social mobility and equality so that our citizens are made to feel safe, our businesses can thrive, and the economy becomes more efficient and attractive to investment.
These are very promising initiatives and to help achieve them, we need more meaningful public-private partnerships geared towards national development initiatives.
We need to upgrade the existing infrastructure so that we develop a booming tech hub and drive economic growth derived from nearshoring opportunities.
We need to improve the ease of doing business to attract greater investment by addressing concerns at the ports and with customs.
And as we invest in ESG and Tech, we need to strengthen our cybersecurity frameworks and ensure we have the necessary regulatory and legislative environment to facilitate these objectives.
All of this is possible by working together. AMCHAM T&T will continue to do our part. We... each of us, must do our part.
As I close, I remain optimistic about our future. Current commodity prices give the Government and likely many of our businesses some fiscal space. We must all use this wisely, understanding that this is a temporary situation.
There is no reason why the pathway to recovery, growth, and resilience toward sustainable development cannot lead to a place where social mobility is facilitated; or where inequalities are replaced by greater opportunities; or where our economy is in the top three most attractive places for investment in the hemisphere.
At AMCHAM T&T, these are goals that we have championed over the last thirty years, and goals I promise you, we will continue to work towards achieving over the next 30 years and beyond.
Finally, I say thank you to all our sponsors of today’s AGM and to our hardworking Secretariat. Ladies and gentlemen, I very much look forward to catching up with each of you at our networking cocktails following this meeting.
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