Trinidad & Tobago’s PM calls for transformation of international economic system

LONDON – Trinidad & Tobago’s Prime Minister, Patrick Manning delivers the feature address at the launch of the Commonwealth Business Forum in London.

“I welcome the opportunity to address you at this formal launch of the seventh Commonwealth Business Forum which will be held in Trinidad and Tobago from November 23-26, 2009. The fact that I have travelled to London for the occasion is an indication of the level of importance we attach to this event. I thank the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Business Council for making this launch possible”.

Prime Minister, Patrick Manning

Trinidad and Tobago has just completed the very successful hosting of the Fifth Summit of the Americas. The meeting signalled a fresh start in cooperation among the nations of our hemisphere. There was significant enthusiasm among leaders of the region as they articulated real willingness to work together to improve the lives of our peoples. There was also strong commitment to join the rest of the international community to overcome present problems and be better prepared for future challenges.

As current Chair of the Summit process, Trinidad and Tobago will play its part towards capitalizing on this mood for greater partnership. We have therefore decided to invite business delegations from the hemisphere to attend the Commonwealth Business Forum that we launch today.

I am sure you recognize what this means. We have in the making a virtual meeting of world business leaders in Port of Spain in November. This makes the occasion full of even greater possibilities. It is going to be an inspiring environment for all entrepreneurial spirits present.

And it is happening at a time when it is sorely needed. In these recessionary days, we especially need the courage, dynamism and creativity of the private sector. There is no other way to return to anywhere near the level of growth that the world economy experienced before the present crisis. The Commonwealth Business Forum is therefore now more important than ever. It must advance the generation of business activity among member states, so many of which are among the more vulnerable of the world. Sadly, the prospects of these countries have indeed been further dimmed by the present global situation.

The Forum must pursue the intensification of cooperation between governments and the private sector which is absolutely necessary in the face of this unprecedented present challenge. We must further the growing trend of partnership with private enterprise in the achievement of the new and higher levels of productivity in our societies. This must also include those areas previously seen as the sole responsibility of the state.

In Port of Spain therefore, we must utilise the opportunity for productive discussions on Public Private Partnerships (PPP). We must examine how these can be best utilized for the development of our countries. It is obvious that, in these times of a global credit crisis, this mechanism can play a vital role in stimulating growth without governments having to descend too deep into deficit financing. The Commonwealth Secretariat has been commendable in creating formalized networks to link member countries to the huge international private sector funds available for infrastructural and institutional development.

But the partnership between government and the private sector must go even further. It must aim at removing the political and bureaucratic obstacles to the growth of business in and among our nations. We must together ensure global focus on the immediate, uncontested priorities.

One such priority is the recent and most welcome G20 decision for a one trillion dollar package for both credit and trade to start flowing again, particularly in developing economies, so many of which are in the Commonwealth. This is indispensable for a return to growth at both the national and global levels. Our Forum must play its part in ensuring that there is no relaxation in the implementation of this decision.

We also have a vested interest in ensuring that there is no diminution in the emerging new approach at the Multilateral Financial Institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Here there are signs that the influence and the needs of the developing world could start positively impacting policies. We must work towards a change from the onerous conditionalities that accompany loans from these institutions. This has suffocated progress in so much of the developing world. Genuine financing for development, including business activity, is a need more critical than ever in developing countries which constitute the vast majority in the Commonwealth.

Ladies and Gentlemen, business activity will not fully flourish in most countries unless we transform an international economic system that has contributed immeasurably to very uneven global development. This global imbalance is reflected quite starkly in our own grouping. The tragic result has been wide scale poverty and underdevelopment affecting hundreds of millions of people all over the developing world. The present crisis is already making the situation worse. Many millions of people in the Commonwealth who did, in recent times, advance their lives to some extent, could be forced back beneath the poverty line.

We also therefore need free and fair trade more than ever before. Our Business Forum must add its voice for the removal of all obstacles to global trade which is already projected to plunge by nine percent this year. This would be the largest contraction since World War 11, and a disastrous development for the global economy at this time. It is certain to spread more misery in every nation of the world. Our Forum therefore must actively strive for the resuscitation of the Doha Developmental Round. Since 2007, this Round was estimated to add 520 billion US dollars to the world economy within ten years, with most of the benefits going to the poorer countries of the world. It underscores the essentiality of fair trade to recovery from the present international recession. The Commonwealth has a responsibility to take a very strong position on this critical matter.

Clearly, My Friends, our meeting in Port of Spain is coming at the right time. Let me also, with humility, suggest that it is happening in an appropriate location. This year, the Trinidad and Tobago economy will register its seventeenth consecutive year of economic growth, with an annual average of 7.7% since 2001. It has more than doubled in size over the last eight years.

We have also registered regular fiscal surpluses even whilst significantly reducing both public and external debt. However, in the present international situation, we have found it prudent to employ very manageable deficit financing this year. Our foreign reserves continue to be high and we have increased our national savings.
The economic success of the country has improved the lives of our people. There has been a 100% increase in per capita income over the last eight years. Most importantly, at the end of last year, we achieved an unemployment level of 4.9%, the lowest recorded level since our country’s independence. There have also been significant improvements in several areas of national life including education, health, poverty alleviation and infrastructural development.

It is therefore a confident Trinidad and Tobago that will host the Business Forum that we launch today. We look forward to welcoming the approximately 800 business leaders from across the Commonwealth and beyond who will also have a chance to interact with counterparts in our hemisphere. We know that in the conducive environment of our capital city there will be:

• great business networking;
• profound and influential debate on trade issues;
• a tremendous boost of investor confidence; and
• significant prospects for increased investment flows.

As a consequence, come November in Port of Spain, our Business Forum will have the capacity to contribute significantly, not only to a reinvigoration of Commonwealth economies, but also to a global economic revival. Let us therefore move with confidence, commitment and optimism to the realisation of our goals as I look forward to seeing all of you in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

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