The Trinidad & Tobago and final leg of the Africa meets the Caribbean Trade Mission began promptly at 9am on Friday 25th January 2013, following the delegation having arrived and settled in to their respective hotels well past 1am that morning.
Ministry of Trade, Industry & Investments:
Ministry officials on hand to meet the trade delegation were Director of Investment Mr Wayne Punnette, and Senior Investment Specialist Mr Videsh Maharaj. Also in attendance was InvesTT’s Senior Facilitation & Aftercare Officer, Ms. Nyala Singh. The trade mission team for Trinidad meetings comprised Mr Bola Akindele Group Managing Director, Courteville Business Solutions PLC, Mr Femi Niyi, Executive Director ( Projects , Strategy and Research, Courteville Business Solutions PLC, Mr Wale Sonaike,Deputy Managing Director ( AutoReg Franchise ), Mr Wole Oyewo, Courteville’s Communications consultant, Mr Denis St Bernard Director of Priority First UK / CENUK, Ms Tokunbo Olamiju Ajilore- Chiedu, CEO Compass Consulting, Mr Del Atah, Managing Director Zeraxis, Mr Clyde Baker, Chairman Priority Group International and director CENUK: Mr Moriba Baker, Priority Groups International local representative and the CaribDirect.com team.
The customary introductions were done beginning with Mr Denis St Bernard Director of Priority First UK who spoke to the importance of the trade mission to Trinidad & Tobago from the point of view of facilitating business inflows from Africa and encouraging local companies to access global markets, particularly in Africa.
Mr Bola Akindele Group Managing Director, Courteville Business Solutions PLC followed swiftly pointing out that his meetings in Jamaica were very encouraging and from his knowledge of Trinidad & Tobago he is confident positive alliances will result at the end of the visit.
On the Information Technology side, Mr Del Atah, Managing Director of Zeraxis described his company while outlining the relevance of IT to the trade mission and by extension Trinidad & Tobago. He spoke of Zeraxis’ global experience having secured contracts all over Europe and his keen interest to enlist Trinidadian entrepreneurs and/or SME businesses to work on global accounts.
Mrs Tokunbo Olamiju Ajilore-Chiedu, CEO Compass Consulting referenced her extensive experience facilitating trade between Nigeria and UK via a strategic partnership with UKTI. Being in the investment and trade promotion space she has been able to create a platform called Enterprise Exhibition, an event that brings businesses from many continents together in Lagos Nigeria. Compass Consulting are proud to have facilitated Grace Kennedy Foods from Jamaica and Dalgety Teas from Guyana’s entry into the Nigerian market.
CaribDirect.com’s CEO and Publisher David F. Roberts delineated the role of CaribDirect on the trade mission emphasising the importance of sensitising the Caribbean region and Diaspora to the opportunities that will open up as a result of Courteville Group’s investment in the Region facilitated by Priority Group International / CENUK.
Leader of the Nigerian delegation Mr Bola Akindele followed through by shedding light on the USP of the Courteville Group which is to develop and design smart solutions targeted to both private and public sector end users ‘seriously, cheaply and fast!’ He confirmed that the Group has patented solutions all over the world and are world leaders in these solutions. Bola made the observation that, like Nigeria, Trinidad & Tobago is very strong in Oil production but may not be as proficient in other areas that Nigeria has perfected over the years, which presents an opportunity for both parties to explore.
The Courteville chief then zeroed in on his company’s flagship product, the AutoReg motor vehicle documentation, administration and tax control system. Bola suggested this system to be very useful to the government of Trinidad & Tobago given it’s successes in Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Director of Investment Mr Wayne Punnette enquired of Mrs Tokunbo Olamiju Ajilore-Chiedu, CEO Compass Consulting, whether any invitation was sent to Trinidad & Tobago companies in the past, to which she replied, ‘No’. That this visit was to reconnoiter (scout, survey) the Caribbean market to establish credible linkages from which to begin planning focused discussions for doing business.
Mr Punnette suggested Courteville meet with the Ministry of Finance or Inland Revenue Department pertaining to discussions on Courteville Group’s stated competence in tax administration and control. A meeting was immediately set for the afternoon of Monday 28th January, the penultimate day of the Africa meets the Caribbean Trade Mission.
Mr St Bernard seized the opportunity to gain clarification on the remit of the Aftercare Department of InvesTT. Nyala Singh explained that the department was set up to support the Facilitation department that attracts Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Trinidad & Tobago, whether it be providing information, organising site visits and so on. Once investors have been secured the Aftercare function begins which takes the form of a hand holding exercise geared to make business easier for the full length of time the investor is in Trinidad & Tobago to encourage expansion and reinvestment.
MD Bola has confirmed, pending the success of discussions in Trinidad & Tobago and all formalities being observed Courteville Group will set up business in Trinidad & Tobago.CEO Tokunbo asked what markets InvesTT targeted to which she was told North America, Canada, Europe and to a lesser extent India. The effort is also sector driven with InvesTT focusing on the following sectors: ICT, Creative Industries, Maritime, Light manufacturing, and Clean technologies.
Director Punnette hastened to indicate the government’s heavy promotion of Sports tourism, aimed at encouraging foreign sports teams, clubs and individuals to come to Trinidad & Tobago to use their state-of-the-art facilities located in near perfect weather all year round. He also stressed the work done to promote the Energy sector with trade missions being sent out to Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and so on trying to promote energy services. He pointed out that any energy sector across the world has Trinidadians providing specialist energy services.
In closing Mr Videsh Maharaj, Senior Investment Specialist mentioned the upcoming Investment Week June 10th to 15th, which comprises the Caribbean Investment Forum and Trade and Investment Convention, aimed at featuring private and public investors including regional manufactures at the Hyatt. He urged the delegation to take advantage of this key business trade show by attending.
The Trade representatives pledged to continue discussions toward formalising an arrangement with Courteville Business Solutions PLC through Priority Group International.
Trinidad & Tobago Chamber of Commerce:
The entire delegation journeyed to the offices of the Trinidad & Tobago Chamber of Commerce at Columbus Circle, West Moorings, a short drive across Port of Spain.
They were met by Trade and Business Development Manager, Mrs Camille Sears-Carter Wells, Trade and Research Economist, Ms Rianna E. Paul, Trade and Research Economist, Stacey Honore and Mr Jerome Chambers, Chief Executive Officer, Going Global Ltd.
The forum was opened by Mr St Bernard who informed the Chamber officials of the purpose of the trade mission which is essentially to engender South / South trade and open up opportunities for Trinidadian companies interested in expanding to Africa.
In his usual way Courteville Business Solutions’ Group Managing Director, Mr Bola Akindele enlightened the officials of the size of the African market and its propensity to continue growing. He mentioned that his company has been successful in rolling out a specialised software program that has been embraced by both private and public sector organisations in Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
He opined that Courteville has the capability to design and develop bespoke programs for the management of large complicated data systems, second to none anywhere and operates on the unique basis of doing the work first with the view to being paid later. The Courteville team are professional and experienced data managers that put their reputation behind their work.
Bola further stated that Courteville has been listed on the Nigeria Stock Exchange for the past 5 years and capitalised at $250 million in shareholder stock. He assured the Chamber executive that all that he has said is verifiable and that they could conceivably deliver on a contract within eight weeks of contract ratification.
Mrs Sears-Carter Wells asked of the challenges Courteville has encountered in accessing these Caribbean markets to introduce its systems. Bola confirmed this mission represented the first time this effort has been attempted but assured her that, given the cultural similarities between Africa and the Caribbean, they don’t expect the challenges to be insurmountable. He was pleased to say that his experience in Jamaica was amazing and he looks forward to a few positive outcomes.
The fact that much of Trinidad and Tobago’s ancestry is rooted in Africa, and particularly Nigeria was made by Mrs Sears-Carter Wells. This premise was generally agreed to be useful in forging strategic business links between Nigeria and Trinidad & Tobago. Mr Akindele reiterated the point that given the common challenges, and Courteville’s proven track record, implementing appropriate systems would not be problematic.
Mr Jerome Chambers, Chief Executive Officer, Going Global Ltd, with an interest in employing a robust IT system to properly streamline the records of a Credit Union, asked if Courteville had any experience designing systems for law enforcement to combat drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism financing. Mr Akindele admitted not having specific experience in this particular area but said, ‘We have the talent to design and develop a system suitable to your needs and this is on the basis of our experience sorting out the Nigeria insurance industry’s document management system in 2007’. Bola provided an undertaking that Courteville Business Solutions can deliver a suitable system within 12 weeks, should they be contracted to do it.
Zeraxis’ Managing Director, Del Atah took the timely opportunity to show that his business is similar in terms of technology but different in execution. That Zeraxis specialises in back office systems, (accounting, CRM, stock, systems for light manufacturing and so on). They are experienced in working with Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies in the UK, France, Norway and Germany.
The companies Zeraxis has worked for include but are not limited to, John Lewis, BUPA International (Saudi Arabia, Spain, Ireland), and The Economist. The concentration has now been shifted to working with SME’s globally with the view to enable to access systems the big companies use at affordable the price.
They have developed a business process matrix that looks at reducing the cost of processing. Del confirmed his company’s success at winning their first contract in Dubai while on the mission. Del said he is keen to offer these services to members of the Trinidad & Tobago Chamber of Commerce.
Trade and Research Economist, Stacey Honore showed her concern for how the system will be serviced and maintained. Would Courteville provide support or train people to carry out the support function. Bola assured Ms Honore that the idea is to set up operations locally and have Trinidadians effect the support service. Femi also affirmed that they upgrade the system annually to ensure proper functionality.
In summing up Trade and Business Development Manager, Mrs Camille Sears-Carter Wells, invited the Nigerian delegation to meet with the Chamber’s E-Biz Committee in March 2013 to make a formal presentation. She insisted that, given the obvious keen mutual interest in establishing formal business relations, the delegates of the mission, particularly Priority group International keep in contact. She said, ‘I would hate for this to be another talk shop…’
High Commission for the Federal Republic of Nigeria:
Following a scrumptious lunch at a local restaurant the delegation shot off to visit the Deputy High Commissioner for the Federation of Nigeria Mr. Lawrence T. Bade-Afuye and his Minister, Politics and Economics, Mr Nasiru Waje.
Mr Femi Niyi started proceedings by apologising for the unavoidable absence of his CEO Mr Bola Akindele and introducing the remaining members of the trade delegation which was joined by Ms Renata Girod, Senior Sector Officer for InvesTT.
Compass Consulting CEO Mrs Tokunbo Olamiju Ajilore-Chiedu provided her concise outline of her company by emphasising her experience with facilitating the introduction of Caribbean companies to the Nigeria market and her keen interest to provide a similar function to Trinidad & Tobago companies.
Ms Renata Girod, Senior Sector Officer for InvesTT explained her role as one that is primarily focused on attracting investment to Trinidad & Tobago. She said that to a lesser extent match making is also a function of InvesTT where they work to facilitate meetings that could result in successful trade arrangements.
Priority Group International Chairman Mr Clyde Baker gave some background to the company and its role in ensuring the introduction of Courteville to the Caribbean is seamless. He introduced one of the local directors, Mr Moriba Baker as being key to Courteville’s transition into Trinidad & Tobago, when the time comes.
The Deputy High Commissioner Mr. Lawrence T. Bade-Afuye thanked the delegation for the visit and said he was delighted as it was significant at this time given the new thrust by the Nigerian president, Hon. Goodluck Jonathan to firm up trade relations between Nigeria and Trinidad & Tobago. He said that the Caribbean region is considered very important to African Union so much so that in 2005 that body declared the Caribbean the 6th Zone of the African Union.
The Deputy High Commissioner Bade-Afuye said the historic affinity between both countries is a prescription for intense and focused bilateral discussion. He announced that the earlier Trade commission between Nigeria and Trinidad & Tobago of 2000 is being revisited under instruction from the president who jointly agreed with Trinidad & Tobago President Kamla Persad-Bissessar to pursue renewed talks.
He has confirmed seeing the new draft agreement and is excited about its possible ratification in March 2013. One key component of the new Trade Commission that will have scope for other Caribbean countries, is the establishment of an air link between Lagos and Port of Spain.
Though he concedes bringing about this ambitious initiative for the benefit of both territories would prove exceedingly difficult, primarily due to pressures from agents long associated with the mapping and management of air routes, he’s convinced that with the stated commitment and obvious passion demonstrated by both leaders for this venture, will bring about success. Should this venture succeed it is expected to extend to New Delhi.
The Deputy High Commissioner expressed again his delight at receiving the delegation and had provided Priority Group International an undertaking in principle to support all efforts to engender trade between Nigeria and Trinidad & Tobago and has assigned his Minister for Politics & Economics to the Courteville team until they depart Trinidad on Tuesday January 28th.
Business Development Company Limited:
The final meeting of the day was with the Business Development Company Limited. Mr Brian Benjamin, Project Manager welcomed the delegation and expressed his pleasure at meeting everyone.
Mr Denis St Bernard led the introductions by speaking about Priority Group International’s role in making the trade mission possible. Mr Femi Niyi, Executive Director (Projects , Strategy and Research, Courteville Business Solutions PLC, gave a synopsis of the Courteville offering and highlighted the rationale for the trade mission – to explore opportunities to work with public or private sector organisations needing data management processing systems.
Mr Clyde Baker, Chairman Priority Group International; Del Atah Managing Director Zeraxis, Mrs Tokunbo Olamiju Ajilore- Chiedu, CEO Compass Consulting and Mr David F. Roberts, CEO CaribDirect.com described their companies outlining their USP’s and the relevance of their input to the trade mission.
Mr Benjamin set out the vision for the BDC as ‘To be the catalyst for growth and sustainability of businesses in Trinidad and Tobago leading to their international competitiveness’.
He mentioned that the day of the meeting was a transition period for the company and further provided a historical perspective of the organisation starting from the now defunct Small Business Development Company. In 2002 government found a niche for small and micro enterprise financing and created NETCO. The Small Business Development Company now became the Business Development Company with a mandate to deal with Medium and Large enterprises.
Mr Benjamin said, ‘The company is now as of today Friday 25th January called ExporTT and is responsible for focusing on promoting exports in the non-oil sector. The other services previously offered to Medium to Large companies under BDC are on hold until further notice’.
He said outside of the mandate of ExporTT for export is to get companies to be competitive. To see how best they can utilise Information Technology and how IT solutions can improve their level of efficiency and production. Mr Benjamin confirmed that one of his functions is to look for funding from international agencies to build capacity of exporters and ExporTT staff to help them deal with exporters…
On this basis Mr Benjamin is convinced there are innumerable opportunities for ExporTT and Courteville to work together and charged Priority Group International, ‘Don’t let the tea get cold…’ Brian also said, ‘I hope the invitation to the Trinidad private sector to participate in the upcoming trade mission to Africa in June comes to ExporTT…we need to find a way to work together and I look forward to further collaboration’.