THE Bankers Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BATT) has commended Finance Minister Colm Imbert for announcing the intention to implement initiatives to increase the repatriation of foreign exchange earned overseas by local and foreign businesses operating in the country.

These initiatives, BATT said, are intended to enhance the supply of foreign exchange, and address the structural issues that contribute to the country’s ongoing foreign exchange challenges.

“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,” BATT stated.

BATT said it is encouraging 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,” it stated.

BATT stated that while it welcomes the measures in the national budget that are aimed at supporting economic growth and diversification but remains cautious about the 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,” it stated.

BATT said that the 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.

“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,” BATT stated.

BATT said the national financial literacy strategy will “definitely augur well and advance the National Financial Education Committee’s agenda.”

BATT also expressed its support for the implementation of the IMF Enhanced General Data Dissemination System Framework, as a first step towards the establishment of the statistical institute.

“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,” it stated.

Crime, BATT stated, 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,” it stated.

BATT said the $20.50 per hour minimum wage is a welcome development for many low-income earners, but it urged 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,” it stated.

“Looking beyond the 2024 fiscal year, BATT is encouraged that the HSF balance has risen to US$5.5 billion 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,” it stated.

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