UWI Conference on the Economy (COTE)
By Timothy Woolford
The end of a fiscal year always brings with it a series of questions and debates about what could have been done, what was done and what should be done. The Government’s answer to this last question is usually delivered in the annual national budget as citizens and interests throughout every Caribbean territory listen intently to the words of Finance Ministers to find out how the nation’s finances are to be allocated, how revenues are to be earned and, more importantly, how they will be affected. The point of all this is that economics is all around us, creating the need for broad public understanding.
In 2007, the Economics Department of the University of the West Indies made strides in providing such an understanding when it launched the inaugural Conference on the Economy (COTE). The late Professor Dennis Pantin, the then head of the Economics Department, said the objective of the conference was to create a discourse among the public, the Department of Economics and the society as a whole. He believed that as an annual event the conference would evolve from a simple discourse to a platform from which projections and prescriptions for the economy of Trinidad and Tobago could be made.
Over the past four years, the COTE has indeed provided a platform for discussing and exploring national, regional and international economic and development issues.. This week, from Wednesday October 5th to Saturday October 8th, this premier event on the calendar of the Economics Department will take place at the Learning Resource Centre on the St. Augustine Campus.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Managing in a Volatile Economic Environment- Addressing the Challenges before us.” This year’s distinguished honoree is Dr. Eric St. Cyr who joins the company of such illustrious economists as Dr. Trevor Farrell and Dr. Roy Thomas. Dr. St. Cyr is a former Head of Department of Economics , and has served Trinidad and Tobago as a Director of the Central Bank and an independent senator for many years. In Cote 2007, Dr. St Cyr presented a paper entitled “Trinidad and Tobago – The Case for Onshore Transformation.” The paper was drawn from a collaboration with Lloyd Best on the latter’s last book, to be published in 2012. The main thesis was that notwithstanding the gallant efforts at gas-based diversification, the Trinidad and Tobago economy was yet to experience genuine transformation. He argued that a better understanding of the Plantation Economy was the key to unraveling this dilemma. Dr. St. Cyr asserted that historically Trinidad and Tobago was primarily driven by external forces, which in turn, caused it to have massive vulnerability to external shocks. His solution was to shift focus from the offshore sector to an expansion of the onshore sector. He believed that the investments necessary to develop the offshore sector will come on its own and questioned why more of our surpluses should be put in that direction. In sum, rents earned from offshore exploitation should be redeployed in onshore diversification. Cote 2011 will honour Dr. St Cyr for his outstanding contribution.
The Conference opens with a feature address by Sir Dwight Venner, the Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, a post he has held since 1989. Sir Dwight has written and published extensively in areas of Monetary and International Economics, Central Banking, Public Finance, Economic Development, Political Economy and International Economic relations. Sir Dwight is recognized as a thought leader in the Caribbean region and his insights on surmounting regional economic development challenges will be eagerly anticipated.
The plenary sessions will begin with a panel discussion on the Economic Situation and Projections. This panel includes Dr. Gene Leon from the IMF, Central Bank Deputy Governor, Dr. Shelton Nichols and a representative of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean ( ECLAC) . These speakers will provide a background on the major economic trends featured in the regional and domestic economy, setting the framework for the sectoral discussions to follow.
COTE 2011 brings together practitioners and academics on key economic sectors. Mr. Vassel Stewart , CEO of the Trinidad and Tobago Agribusiness Association (TTABA), will be the lead speaker in the panel “Agriculture Opportunities and Challenges”. Mr. Stewart and TABA has been leading the thrust towards increasing the value added from agribusiness through downstream processing of local agricultural produce. Another discussion to look forward to is the “Tourism and Aviation Challenges and Opportunities” panel. This panel will include Mr. Ian Bertrand who is known for his thought-provoking commentary on several aviation issues in the region, more recently, the Caribbean Airlines/Air Jamaica merger and the entry of low cost carriers in the region. There is also further diversification among the panels this year as for the first time there will be panel discussing “Cultural Challenges and Opportunities.”
The COTE 2011 will also see the emergence of several young aspiring economists, recent graduates of the MSc Economics programme. The panel on “ICT Trade and Opportunities” will include Ms. Nicole Chaitan who will present the findings of her research on “Microfinance and Innovation: Incorporating Microenterprises in the Proposed National Innovation System of Trinidad and Tobago”.
Ms. Nazera Abdul-Haqq will be among the panelist on the “Energy Sector Challenges”, with a presentation of her pioneering work on “Estimating Local Content in the Energy Sector in Trinidad and Tobago: A case study of NGC Pipeline Projects”. Other presentations from this year’s MSc graduates include Ms Kara Brown -”Wages, Inflation and Growth in Small Open Economies” and Ms. Kayelle Clarke “The Working Poor in Trinidad & Tobago: The special case of Gender Inequality”.
The regional dimension will be maintained at this year’s Conference with presentations frm Suriname and Guyana. Dr. Zsa Zsa Leysner-Lenting from the University of Suriname will be featured in the panel on “Tourism and Aviation Challenges and Opportunities”, while the paper by Dr. Jocelyn Williams of the University of Guyana on “The Deficit in Industrial Policy in Guyana” promises to add something unique to the “Macroeconomic Challenges” panel. Also in this panel is Mr. Andre Haughton from the University of Essex who shall present on “The Interaction between Monetary Policy and Stock Prices: An empirical evaluation of the Caribbean and the US”.