International buyers interested in Caribbean goods and services should try their best to be in Port of Spain, Trinidad, between April 15 and 24.
At the national sporting stadium to the west of the city, they will find in one location the best that Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean can supply in a range of manufactured goods that includes clothes, food, beverages, cosmetics, electronic and electrical items, steel products, furniture, packaging material, paper products, plastic products, chemicals, computer software, automotive components, personal care products, construction materials and much more.
It will be the third time in seven years that Trinidad and Tobago’s Export Development Corporation (EDC), in conjunction with its wholly-owned marketing affiliate the Trinidad and Tobago Export Trading Company (ETC), stages an international exposition.
And if the claims of the EDC’s chief executive officer, Oscar Alonzo, are anything to go by, the earlier fairs in the same location in 1988 and 1990 were simply a preparation for this event.
The International Exposition 1994 is unquestionably the “big one”, in Mr Alonzo’s view, with a theme that addresses the trading realities for Caribbean businessmen as the 20th century glides to a close.
That theme is Rising to the Challenge, the challenge being the barrier-free global marketplace in which Caribbean producers of goods and services are going to have to exist from the late 1990s onwards.
“We are well aware that the Caribbean exporting community needs to face competition from extra-regional sources head on,” Alonzo says. “Expo 94 unequivocally expresses our confidence that Trinidad and Tobago and Caribbean products can find acceptance in international markets.”
Over 300 manufacturers and providers of services who have booked space at Expo 94 clearly agree with him. Indeed, they were so eager to prove their virility on the international stage that all the available space had been taken by last October.
Mr Alonzo clearly knows what he is talking about when he says that Trinidad and Tobago producers are capable of making goods which are fully acceptable to buyers abroad and can compete with any in their field.
The EDC and ETC can claim a major part of the credit for the impressive performance of Trinidad and Tobago’s non-oil, non- petrochemical manufacturing sector in the last eight years. Such exports have grown by 12 per cent a year. In 1992, while Trinidad and Tobago exports fell overall by one per cent, non-oil, non-petrochemical sales rose by nine per cent. TT$1.54 billion worth of local goods, equivalent to US$270 million in 1993 values, are now being exported each year.
And they are not only, or even mainly, going to other countries in the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom) region, of which Trinidad and Tobago is a key member. The biggest customer for domestic goods in 1992 was, in fact, the country with the world’s most competitive market — the United States. It took TT$160 million worth of non-oil, non-petrochemical products. Mexico bought $ll8 million, Britain $105 million, Japan $85.2 million, Venezuela $64.4 million, Colombia $44.9 million, Puerto Rico $28.1 million, Canada $35.2 million and France $34.1 million (all figures in TT$).
Based on this record, the gradual disappearance of the protection now enjoyed by Caricom manufacturers, discussed in the Autumn 1993 edition of this magazine, should hold few terrors for Trinidad and Tobago manufacturers.
Manufacturers elsewhere in Caricom are confident that they, too, can compete internationally, and Expo 94 will have a special booth for the majority of them, partly subsidised by the ETC.
Thirty non-Caricom countries are also expected to turn up, displaying goods that foreign manufacturers, for their part, wish to sell to Caribbean buyers, making the Exposition a truly two-way affair, in keeping with the spirit of free trade. Included in this list are the United States, Venezuela, Britain, Canada, China, France, India, Nigeria, Korea and Cuba, with whom the Caricom countries are trying to forge a new relationship, based initially on trade.
Expo 94 is going to provide a stimulus for the local economy in a year when Trinidad and Tobago is expected to resume real growth, after about a decade of economic stagnation. Over TT$12 million is likely to be spent by the EDC and the exhibitors on mounting the fair, which will also offer visitors 100 hours of top-line entertainment during its 10-day run.
Five thousand people are expected to be employed in the five-day construction period preceding opening night on Friday April 15. Another 12,000 will be required to operate the exhibition as booth attendants, security personnel, electricians, caterers, maintenance men, transport staff, entertainers and others.
The 1990 Exposition generated TT$75 million worth of business (and this was products sold, not expressions of interest,” Mr Alonzo is keen to point out) and that figure is likely to be easily exceeded in 1994.
About 2,000 buyers from the Caribbean and the rest of the world are expected in Port of Spain, and the EDC intends to bend over backwards to put them in the frame of mind conducive to placing large orders.
Any information they require beforehand can be obtained by dialing the exclusive Expo fax line – 809 627 0462. Buyers will be given VIP treatment when they arrive at the airport on BWIA, the airline designated as the official Expo 94 carrier. They will enjoy free transport between their hotels and the exhibition site and have the use of a match-making service provided by the EDC to put them in touch with producers they wish to meet.
Oscar Alonzo and his key Expo associates Yaseen Rahaman (site manager) and Sofia Ali (secretariat services) are in no doubt that Expo 94 will be a significant event in Caribbean business life. It will, they say, “be 10 days that change not only the face, but the pace, of trade within the Caribbean and between the Caribbean and the outside world.” •
David Renwick is a freelance writer in Port of Spain specialising in business, finance and energy