BATT welcomes the 2024 National Proposed Budget measures that are aimed at supporting economic growth and diversification but remains cautious about attainment of several stated objectives given ongoing structural challenges.

As Trinidad and Tobago transitions into a cashless society and a Fintech-enabled financial services hub BATT is encouraged by the Government’s continued investment in the digital economy strategy, including expanding the ambit of e-government. Ongoing digital transformation of the public sector is a welcome measure given its potential to substantially improve public service efficiency, particularly for the business community. To this end, BATT supports the adoption of an e-procurement solution for the government’s procurement regime, e-tax filing, and the digitization of government payments to reduce the use of cash.

Nonetheless, we urge the government to expedite full proclamation of the Electronic Transactions Act and the Data Protection Act, as the country keeps its foot on the digital pedal. Proclaiming the Acts will help businesses to leverage e-commerce and will also foster greater adoption by a wider cross-section of users. A comprehensive legislative framework will also facilitate collection of data pertinent to the digital economy. This will help, for instance, to close the gap in e-commerce data collection in order to monitor progress in this area and inform the development of relevant policies.

Financial Literacy
Financial literacy is one of BATT’s main long-standing commitments and we welcome greater collaboration with the government, regulators, and other stakeholders in support of a national financial literacy strategy. Through a national financial literacy strategy, we envision practical and pointed interventions aimed at improving the financial well-being of communities, and lower-income citizens in particular, as too, improving levels of financial inclusion.

The national financial literacy strategy will definitely augur well and advance the National Financial Education Committee’s agenda of which BATT is a part. Therefore, we thank the Government for this increased support. BATT will continue to spearhead country-wide initiatives to improve financial literacy through financial education engagements across a broad range of audiences. We look forward to continuing being part of a multi-stakeholder partnership to bolster our communities’ financial resilience today and for the future.

Statistical Institute
Relatedly, BATT supports the implementation of the IMF Enhanced General Data Dissemination System Framework, as a first step towards the establishment of the statistical institute, which provides high-quality information at the national, as well as the international level. We feel strongly that it is important for the country to have a robust statistical repository containing timely and reliable data that is easily accessible to the public; this will enable more informed decision-making. As such, we urge the government to expeditiously introduce the relevant revised legislation for establishing the institute.

Foreign Exchange
The Association welcomes the commitment to consulting on options to address the challenges being faced by the business community and the wider public in purchasing foreign currency. BATT will continue to work with the Government to implement new arrangements to improve access to foreign exchange for the most affected segments of the market including small and medium-sized enterprises. We commend initiatives to boost repatriation of foreign exchange earned overseas by local and foreign business operating domestically in order to increase the supply of foreign exchange, given the structural issues that contribute to the foreign exchange problems we have been facing,

BATT encourages ongoing dialogue among the government and stakeholders to find long-term solutions. We look forward to receiving clarifications pertaining to the proposed extension of the two foreign exchange facilities at the EXIMBANK and an increase in the ceiling of the US Dollar foreign exchange facility presented in the budget. We are also heartened that the Minister is giving consideration to BATT’s recommendation on the forex issue.

Crime and Security
Crime and Security Crime is a growing concern and continues to be a major issue that negatively affects the doing-business environment. We acknowledge the government’s commitment to addressing the nation’s security challenges with allocations to law enforcement for increased recruitment, equipment, training programs. However, we are of the view that the complex nature of the crime problem requires a multi-faceted approach to crime-fighting; this suggests that a marked and sustained reduction in crime levels is more likely to occur in the medium term. BATT will continue to collaborate with the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and other stakeholders as we seek effective, long-term solutions to the crime scourge.

Minimum Wage
The proposed 17% increase of the minimum wage to TT$20.50 per hour is a welcome development for many low-income earners as it will help to ease the burden of the cost of living. At the same time, BATT urges the government to provide technical and other types of assistance for small- and medium- sized businesses to maintain their profit margins even as they implement the wage increase. This is crucial given the important role that small businesses play in contributing to our GDP and creating jobs for workers, many of whom are in the lower-income group. Managing operational costs to accommodate the minimum wage increase will help to prevent negative effects on small businesses such as forced reduction of employee hours, termination of staff, or imposition of higher prices for their goods and services. Looking ahead, BATT suggests close monitoring of the overall impact of the increase in the minimum wage on the small business community in order to mitigate unintended negative consequences.

Heritage and Stabilization Fund
Looking beyond the 2024 fiscal year, BATT is encouraged that the HSF balance has risen to US$5.5billion and is part of the country’s strong external buffers. We urge the government to continue its efforts to strengthen these buffers which could help the economy to withstand future and unexpected exogenous shocks.

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