AMCHAM T&T ADVOCATES FOR PASSAGE OF FATCA LEGISLATION
The American Chamber of Commerce of T&T (AMCHAM T&T) strongly urges the Government and Opposition to work together to ensure the passage of the Tax Information Exchange Bill 2016 (commonly referred to as the FATCA legislation) by the deadline date of September 30th, 2016.
We are of the view that our country is on the brink of being demoted to the periphery of the global financial system largely due to inaction on the part of politicians on both sides of the political divide. This is a crisis manufactured by politics to the detriment of the national interest. The former Government had ample opportunity to pass this legislation during its tenure, and the current Government has also had more than a year to ensure that this important piece of legislation was properly vetted, reviewed and passed.
We are mindful that there has been limited, if any, consultation with stakeholders on the legislation which is currently before the House. However, AMCHAM T&T is of the view that there is still enough time for both the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament to complete deliberations on the Bill and to ensure its passage before the 30th September 2016 deadline. The foregoing is critical since there has as yet been no indication that an extension of time is being contemplated by the U.S. Government.
Should this Bill not be passed by the deadline, the costs of participating in the international financial system can be impacted and ultimately, a possible loss of correspondent bank relationships could occur if this and other obligations are not met which could, in turn, lead to difficulties in conducting, for example, credit card transactions and wire transfers. This would mean that everything from buying goods or services online, to transferring money to pay university fees or purchase inputs for businesses would be affected. Potential shortages and consequential increases to the prices of goods and services already in scarce supply would also arise over time as a consequence of the deadline not being met.
AMCHAM T&T is mindful that once the Bill is passed, guidelines for compliance will be developed by the regulators of financial institutions, the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago and the Securities Exchange Commission of Trinidad and Tobago. To this end, we encourage stakeholder involvement in the early stages of the development of these guidelines.
We caution that once this piece of legislation is passed, other critical pieces of legislation require urgent attention to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago comply with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing obligations. Failure to do so would continue to jeopardize our country’s links to the international banking system.
Several CARICOM countries, including Jamaica, Barbados and the Bahamas, have already passed their ‘FATCA’ legislation. It is our view that legislators on both sides of the aisle should put country first and work toward the passage of this legislation by the deadline. The consequence of inaction is not something that we can either afford or entertain.
AMCHAM T&T – ‘BREXIT’ LONG-TERM IMPACT STILL UNCLEAR
As a very open, small island economy, which has deep political and economic ties to the United Kingdom, the results of the UK referendum on that country’s membership in the European Union will undoubtedly have an impact on Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. The real, long-term impact is unlikely to be clear for some time however.
Nonetheless, with the UK voters casting their ballots in favour of a “BrExit”, and while we await the vote being taken to the Parliament and the UK invoking Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union to allow for that exit, the Caribbean has several things to consider.
The first group of issues surround competitiveness. Concomitant with the victory of the “Leave” vote, the British sterling faced a sharp decline, reaching levels that it had not seen since the 1980s. The question of where the pound will settle and how long the volatility will persist is of some concern for several reasons. While a decline in the value of the pound may provide new opportunities for local businesses to source inputs from Britain and elsewhere in the UK, a sustained decline in value may also pose additional challenges as UK exports become cheaper and more price competitive, even in local markets. This will include services exports as the UK is second largest services export economy globally.
With a decline in the purchasing power of the British Sterling comes an attendant threat to regional tourism as the cost of a Caribbean holiday for UK travellers will increase. This is important because according to data on the Tourism Development Corporation website, the UK is our third largest source of tourists over the past decade. In raw numbers, on average over the past decade, 38,000 UK nationals visited T&T per year. Assuming that this number will fall if the cost of travel increases due to a devaluation of the UK currency, T&T will have to look for alternative markets. We therefore suggest that renewed efforts be placed on attracting tourists from near markets in Latin America and new markets in North America. In this regard, establishing Piarco International Airport as a pre-clearance port to the United States would be particularly valuable.
In the medium term, another area of uncertainty for the region is in our trade arrangements. Currently 15 Caribbean countries are in an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU, which allows for preferential trade and in some areas asymmetrical benefits (i.e. terms of trade that benefit the CARIFORUM more than the EU). Note here that the Parties to the EPA are 15 individual Caribbean States while on the other side, it is the European Community; and “Contracting parties to the Treaty establishing the European Community and the Treaty on the European Union” (i.e. not individual EU member states). If the UK is no longer a member state of the EU, then the applicability of the agreement to the UK comes into question.
Apart from the EPA, there is no legal framework allowing for preferential treatment between the UK and the English-speaking Caribbean. While we anticipate that the UK, being a longstanding development partner with the region, would not let our relationship wither, a strategy to prevent any negative impact of the Brexit and ensure the continuation of legal (in the context of the WTO) preferential trade, with the necessary certainty and predictability, should be devised quickly. Since CARICOM negotiates international treaties as a bloc, regional governments will need to move quickly to devise and execute a strategy to engage with both the EU and UK throughout the BrExit process.
Article 233 of the EPA – Definition of the Parties and fulfilment of obligations – states that:
Contracting Parties of this Agreement shall be Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Surinam, and Trinidad and Tobago, hereinafter referred to as the “CARIFORUM States”, on the one part, and the European Community or its Member States or the European Community and its Member States, within their respective areas of competence as derived from the Treaty establishing the European Community, hereinafter referred to as the “EC Party” on the other part.
Article 245 – This Agreement shall apply, on the one hand, to the territories in which the Treaty establishing the European Community is applied and under the conditions laid down in that Treaty, and on the other hand, to the territories of the Signatory CARIFORUM States. References in this Agreement to ‘territory’ shall be understood in this sense.
Date: Thursday 12th May, 2016
Event: AMCHAM T&T Annual General Meeting 2016
Address by AMCHAM T&T President Ravi Suryadevara
Ravi Speech Luncheon AGM 2016
T&T OFF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY WATCH-LIST
The Special 301 Report of 2016 was recently released by the Office of the United States Trade Representative. The annual report identifies barriers to trade posed by inadequate or ineffective intellectual property law enforcement in other countries. This year, the report reviewed the protection and enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights in 73 of the US’s trading partners including Trinidad and Tobago. In the latest report, Trinidad and Tobago has been removed from the Watch List. This is extremely gratifying for us at AMCHAM T&T.
Trinidad and Tobago, along with CARICOM counterpart Barbados, appeared on the Watch List in 2013 (only one other CARICOM country, Jamaica, has been on the Watch List, dating as far back as 2006). In the release of the 2016 Report, 15 countries in the Western Hemisphere have been flagged. These include three countries on the Priority Watch List (Argentina, Chile and Venezuela) and the remaining 12 (including Jamaica and Barbados) on the Watch list.
AMCHAM T&T played a critical role in bringing stakeholders to the table, to ensure that IP infringements were duly mediated, and in that regard AMCHAM T&T would like to recognize the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) for their action in addressing some of these challenges. AMCHAM T&T also engaged with the US Embassy during the Special 301 consultation process. We also advocated for our removal from the list at our various meetings in Washington DC at the US Chamber of Commerce and with US policy-makers. We remain committed to working with the private sector, regulatory agencies and government bodies to resolve potential barriers to trade and to improve the efficacy of our IP regulation system, which we must do even more effectively to stay off of the Watch List.
The Special 301 Report provides national and global policymakers with a roadmap to develop a stronger IP system and should engender not simply a reaction to a U.S. government report, but spur a deliberate investment in the innovative future of our own economies. Remaining off this list and similar categorizations means stronger IPR enforcement, protection and sensitization among stakeholders.
BILL TO SUPPORT DEEPER CARIBBEAN-US RELATIONS CLEARS US CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE
In other US-policy news, a bill to increase engagement with the governments of the Caribbean, the Caribbean diaspora community in the United States and the private sector civil society in both the US and the Caribbean has been introduced in the US House of Representatives. The Bill can be cited as the United States – Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016. It was sponsored by Congressman Eliot Engel and co-sponsored by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Undoubtedly, AMCHAM T&T along with the SOCA member organizations have been working to keep, not only Caribbean trade in services with the US, but general US – Caribbean relations on the front burner.
If passed, the Bill would require the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to submit to Congress a multiyear strategy focused on: outreach to the countries of the Caribbean and diaspora communities in the U.S., improving energy security, countering violence, ramping up diplomacy, and other priority areas. These priority areas include support for regional economic, political, and security integration efforts in the Caribbean region; encouraging sustainable economic development and increased regional economic diversification and global competitiveness;
In addition, the Bill requires the Government Accountability Office to produce two key reports: An evaluation of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) and a breakdown of CBSI assistance provided to each country; and an evaluation of U.S. diplomatic engagement with the Eastern Caribbean. The former would undoubtedly assist Trinidad and Tobago as we attempt to tackle drug and arms trafficking and rationalize programs and spending in the fight against crime.
According to Representative Engel, “While they are sometimes overlooked, the countries of the Caribbean are profoundly important to the United States, and particularly to the many Caribbean-American citizens in the United States. With so many crises around the globe that demand U.S. attention, we can’t lose sight of our long-term interests closer to home but should instead strengthen and expand ties with our Caribbean neighbours”.
The multi-year strategy for United States engagement with the Caribbean region is to be submitted to the appropriate congressional committees no later than 180 days after the date of enactment of the Act.
We at AMCHAM T&T intend to continue our engagement with Congress as we further develop our SOCA proposals for increasing business activity between the Caribbean and the US. We would be grateful for feedback or suggestions from our members in this regard.
Please read some of the SOCA background work at http://www.amchamtt.com/business-leaders-talk-us-caricom-services-trade-in-washington-advancing-soca-services-of-the-caribbean/ and let us know what we can do to create more opportunities for your businesses.
Read the full text of the bill here: https://democrats-foreignaffairs.house.gov/sites/democrats.foreignaffairs.house.gov/files/United%20States%20-%20Caribbean%20Strategic%20Engagement%20Act%20of%202016.pdf
AMCHAM T& T WELCOMES THE NEW US AMBASSADOR TO T&T
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago would like to extend a warm welcome to His Excellency, John L. Estrada on his appointment as the new US Ambassador to Trinidad & Tobago.
Since its inception 24 years ago, AMCHAM T&T and the US Embassy have cultivated a close working relationship. This relationship remains important as the United States maintains its position as Trinidad and Tobago’s largest trading partner. This and other issues were discussed when the Ambassador met with Ravi Suryadevara and Nirad Tewarie, AMCHAM T&T’s President and CEO, earlier in April, 2016.
On welcoming the US Ambassador to Trinidad & Tobago, Suryadevara said: “It was clear in our initial meeting that AMCHAM T&T and Ambassador Estrada have shared priorities. His wide ranging expertise and energy will undoubtedly amplify an already strong relationship that AMCHAM T&T shares with the embassy, and further increase business and trade ties between our countries”.
A son of the soil, the Ambassador, was born and raised in Laventille, Port of Spain. He would later emmigrate with his family to the United States at the age of 14. A true success story, Ambassador Estrada has had many professional achievements throughout his career. He has served as a Presidentially-appointed Commissioner on the American Battle Monuments Commission; as a Committee Member of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services; a member of the National Board of Directors for Operation Homefront; and on the Executive Committee for the United Services Organization. Ambassador Estrada also has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from the University of Phoenix.
Prior to his confirmation, Ambassador Estrada was Senior Manager for Lockheed Martin Training Solutions. Ambassador Estrada served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 34 years, most notably as the 15th Sergeant Major of the United States Marine Corps – the nation’s highest-ranking enlisted Marine.
As The Pathway to the Americas, AMCHAM T&T continues to widen its scope of involvement and engagement with its counterparts in the Western Hemisphere, and as such remains committed to deepening its connection with the United States of America.
His Excellency is scheduled to be the feature speaker at AMCHAM T&T’s 23rd Annual General Meeting, which will take place on Thursday 12th May, 2016 at the Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre.
AMCHAM T&T’S INITIAL RESPONSE TO THE 2016 MID-YEAR REVIEW:
NEED FOR FURTHER ADJUSTMENT
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago continues to appreciate the difficult position that the Government has faced in the past six months. We understand the delicate balance that exists in trying to stimulate economic growth, social stability and encourage trade and investment.
We recognize the adjustment of the oil and gas prices assumption to more prudent figures of $35 per barrel and $2 per mmbtu natural gas as a necessity of the current circumstances. In light of the prevailing economic conditions, AMCHAM T&T supports the reduction in the fuel subsidy.
AMCHAM T&T would like to see more definitive and strong actions with respect to the further diversification of the economy. Focus should be targeted towards the areas that are intended to act as a buffer while tax revenues from the energy sector are projected to remain low.
We are grateful that the Minister recognizes the delay in meeting the statutory timeline for VAT refunds and the burden it places on businesses. However, systemic challenges within the BIR necessitates that more than legislative amendment is required to alleviate the challenges that stakeholders face. We are hopeful that the penal provisions against the State for delay in VAT refunds is unaltered in the amendment. We continue to advocate for the formation of the Revenue Authority and for the introduction of other mechanisms to increase the efficiency of tax revenue collection, as AMCHAM T&T highlighted in previous budget submissions in much detail.
The foreign exchange rate, articulated by the Minister of Finance is a step towards finding a balance in satisfying foreign exchange demand. We remain vigilant in the near term to monitor the effects this has on the wider community, to determine what further action is required.
AMCHAM T&T requests of the Minister of Finance to carefully consider the government’s position on the application of the 7% levy on online purchase on retail companies not resident in T&T. Internet shopping has proven to increase efficiency in spending, by lowering cost overall and increasing choice to the end consumer. There is a global shift to internet shopping migrating from traditional retail. Government agencies currently benefit from internet sourcing and purchases both in revenue generation by actually offering internet shopping as a revenue earner, and as a cost reduction mechanism, in sourcing critical parts for police vehicles, ambulances etc. There is a greater need for efficiency in Customs. Many other smaller CARICOM economies, have implemented a de minimums system, freeing up the system to increase efficiency, rather than adding more taxes. This tax or any additional on-line tax will significantly impede a growing industry which employs hundreds of people directly and more indirectly in light of the Government’s need to create new revenue streams.
AMCHAM T&T remains committed to working with the government in addressing the present economic challenges. We recognize the Government’s effort in bringing a measure of balance to the present circumstances and avail ourselves to dialogue on the way forward.
AMCHAM T&T was asked to provide comments on the Whistleblower Protection Bill 2015 for the Joint Select Committee for their consideration. The comments which are outlined below provide a number of section specific suggestions that we believe would further aid in protecting whistleblowers as well s general comments as it relates to the implementation and enforcement of the law.
It should also be a requirement that the reasons for determining whether or not the external disclosure should be made, should be set out in writing.
AMCHAM T& T Promotes Diversity And Inclusion At Annual National Youth Productivity Forum
“No one person or select groups within society should be discriminated against based on gender, geography, sexuality, race, political affiliation and so on.” These were the words of Nirad Tewarie, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago as he delivered remarks at the Opening Ceremony of AMCHAM T&T’s National Youth Productivity Forum (NYPF). Now in its seventh year, the forum was launched at the University of Trinidad & Tobago’s (UTT), Valsayn Campus on Wednesday 27th January, 2016 under the patronage of His Excellency, The President of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, Anthony Carmona, SC.
The annual event features some of the best and brightest students from diverse geographic regions of T&T, as they seek to critically analyse and discuss societal issues that are of national and global importance. This years’ theme ‘Diversity…Inclusion … towards a more productive Trinidad and Tobago’ was chosen as AMCHAM T&T believes this topic is pivotal to the sustainable development of Trinidad &Tobago. It is the hope of the organisation that by engaging young people in open and meaningful dialogue, it will enhance their education and understanding of these issues and its implications for our economy.
Mr. Tewarie emphasised “that diversity, inclusion and tolerance” were critical elements to adopt as Trinidad and Tobago is now at an economic crossroads. He stated: “At this juncture in our economy we must focus on being competitive. One means of doing so is to ensure that we are able to embrace everyone in society who is willing and able to contribute.” He noted that increasing the productive capacity needed to bolster T&T’s competiveness may be hampered if we continue to exclude marginalized groups. These persons may then be forced to depend on state benefits, charity or casual work with marginal remuneration, which in the end does not promote financial independence. He also advocated for the inclusion of all groups in society to participate fully in promoting equality for all.
“I would like to state categorically that we at AMCHAM T&T are of the view that Trade Unions are a partner in development” said Mr. Tewarie. He further stated, “we firmly believe that with sincerity of purpose…..business and labour can work harmoniously to come up with solutions that would lead to a more competitive and productive Trinidad & Tobago”.
In a display of his dedication to the project and the young people of this nation, President Carmona spent over an hour greeting and chatting individually with each student participating in the forum.
Professor Dyer Narinesingh, President of the University of Trinidad & Tobago in his address promoted the idea that “knowledge is the new natural resource”. He explained this idea by stating that “knowledge fuelled by power and fuelled by imagination in a creative, innovation and entrepreneurial workforce (all of which) will lead to the appreciation of the diversity of our people and the diversification and growth of our economy”.
David Belgrave, CEO of Massy Technologies InfoCom (T&T) Ltd applauded the efforts of the teachers and the students over the years, as he has seen first-hand the growth of the students during program. He urged the business community to support programs like the NYPF and to heed the messages of diversity and inclusion.
The model of the NYPF, which targets students between the ages of 16 to 18 years in all secondary schools in the country, is multifaceted and comprises of Discussion Rounds, an Online Component, a School’s Business Project and Internships during the July/August vacation.
The schools participating in this year’s competition are: Queen’s Royal College; St. Joseph’s Convent Port-of-Spain; Holy Name Convent, Port-of-Spain; Woodbrook Secondary School; Eldorado East Secondary School; Arima Central Secondary School; Toco Secondary School; Coryal Secondary School; Cowen Hamiliton Secondary School; ASJA Girls College, San Fernando; Shiva Boys Hindu College, San Fernando; Presentation College, Chaguanas; Waterllo Secondary School; Trinity College, Moka and ASJA Boys College, Chaguanas.
Sponsors for this year’s National Youth Productivity Forum include Platinum sponsors First Citizens and Ezone, other sponsors G-TECH, EOG Resources and ABT Engineers and Constructors Limited. Partners include UTT, Massy Technologies Limited, YTEPP Limited and The Trinidad & Tobago National Commission for UNESCO.
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