By: Sushmita Ramjohn
862 kilometres. That’s the unobstructed distance between Trinidad and Curacao, an island just off the coast of Venezuela, lined with majestic white sand beaches and vibrant architectural sites. A World Trade Organisation (WTO) Accessions Newsletter in 2020, stated that there have been negotiations for increasing bilateral trade between T&T and Curacao since 2018. While no trade agreement has been announced by either country, Curacao was identified as a market of interest for exports in the National Export Booster Initiative for the Manufacturing Sector 2021. The Export Booster Initiative (EBI), which is valued at TT $50 Million, is being undertaken by exporTT and the Ministry of Trade and Industry with the aim of increasing non–energy exports and developing overseas markets for local T&T products. There is also a collaboration with entities such as The Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturer’s Association (TTMA), Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI), Fashion TT and others for events such as participation in trade missions and capacity building. Under the EBI a Curacao market survey was conducted in 2021, followed by a virtual trade mission to Curacao, conducted by the TTMA. These two activities revealed potential in the market and paved the way for an in-person Trade Mission to Curacao, which is scheduled for the 1st to 4th November, 2022.
In Curacao, which has a significant service–based economy, tourism, oil refining, financial services, ICT and bunkering account for some 84% of the country’s GDP. The 444 km2 island has no developed manufacturing sector and its imports in 2020 were valued at $856 Million USD. This means that there is a significant reliance on imports for consumer and capital goods. In contrast, exports were valued at just $143 Million USD in the same year. Additionally, Curacao provides the perfect getaway oasis for tourists while also affording a paradise of opportunities for the exporters of Trinidad and Tobago in the areas of food and beverage and construction.
The first area of interest for T&T’s exports is in the food and beverage sector. Given the size of the tourism industry and the role it plays in Curacao, exports from Trinidad and Tobago would not only cater to the Curacao citizens but to tourists as well. In 2021, Curacao noted a total of 265,000 tourist arrivals according to the Curacao Tourist Board and it is expected that the 2022 figure will surpass this. This figure encompasses day trippers, cruise arrivals, overnight stays etc. In addition to Curacao’s population of 152,369, all the tourist arrivals represent a market for exporters. According to the International Trade Centre’s website, as a market, Curacao has untapped import potential in various products which means that Curacao has the capacity to import more. The products with more potential to import include food preparations, water, non-alcoholic beverages and prepared sauces. Coincidentally all of these items are on the list of the top 50 exports of Trinidad and Tobago. Entering the Curacao market, as advised by Advertising, the consultant who conducted the virtual trade mission, can be done in three ways which include partnering with a local distributor in Curacao, direct B2B meetings and establishing an office and operations in Curacao. Products in the food and beverages category have no specific requirements for entry into the Curacao market, except for the provision of a mandatory expiration date printed on edible items and that labels must indicate the ingredients of products and the size and quantity of an item. In the absence of a trade agreement, a tariff would apply; the customs tariff applied on products depend on the HS Code and range from 5.5% to 35%. Food preparations, for example, under HS Code 21069010 have a 12% tariff. For further information on tariffs, exporTT’s Research and Opportunity department can be contacted.
The second area of interest for T&T exporters is the construction sector. Recently, the in-market consultants described the developments in Curacao as a ‘building boom’, particularly in the hotel industry, and stated that there is also an interest in renovating the older buildings. It is recommended to use a distributor from Curacao if entering the market with building materials. The two established companies in Curacao that the consultant recommends are Kooyman and Building Depot. The consultants also mentioned that companies who are environmentally conscious may have an advantage if they indicate that their packaging for consumer goods is recyclable and biodegradable. This can be extended to other products and may also provide producers of building materials with an advantage if they indicate the environmental impact of their products. exporTT has a Standards Implementation Grant and International Certification Fund which can assist in meeting market entry requirements. The tariffs applied to construction goods, like in the food and beverage sector, also depend on the HS code. For example, cement with HS Code 252100 has a tariff of 10.5%.
Curacao is a beautiful island with rich heritage and just as rich landscapes and scenery with an added incentive: there is an opportunity for business. T&T can offer products in the food and beverage sector as well as the construction sector and potentially access a market that includes both the local Curacao population and their visitors. It is advised, however, to contact distributors in Curacao who have experience with importing rather than entering the market without their expertise. There is a market for T&T’s products in Curacao because of Curacao’s propensity to import due to the characteristics of its economy. exporTT looks forward to the upcoming 1st to 4th November Trade Mission and tapping into that existing market potential together with our local manufacturers and service providers.