New president takes the helm at SATT
By Andrea Perez-Sobers
The Shipping Association of Trinidad and Tobago (SATT) has a new president.
Sonja Voisin has succeeded Hayden Alleyne, who served his maximum two consecutive terms.
Voisin, in her first interview with the me dia since her appointment on March 24, said the under-regulated shipping industry makes for unhealthy competition and inconsistency in pricing and operational standards.
Voisin told the Express Business that to address this problem, the association has developed a draft Shipping Act which it hopes legislators will take to Parliament to ensure healthy competition and industry standards.
This, Voisin said, is also a critical factor in improving trade facilitation and promoting the availability of regulated services to all consumers.
'Including low-income, rural, and disadvantaged consumers, and enhancing public knowledge, awareness, and understanding of the sector,' she acknowledged.
Voisin said the industry is still facing many challenges such as at the Customs and Excise Division, specifically, the efficiency of its operations and the application of its tar- iff. "Delays in the clearance of cargo and application of overtime costs ad- versely affect trade facilitation. There is active collaboration taking place to resolve these issues, between the Shipping Association and the Customs Division, however, legislative reform and engagement of suitable personnel in critical areas is necessary for a holistic solution,' she said.
Voisin noted that the industry is waiting with much anticipation for August 1, 2023, when the Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority (TTRA) is implemented, which is hoped to bring short- to medium-term benefits.
Congestion and delays
Another area of concern for SATT's president is the ports which are dangerously close to full capacity, because any time an increase in trade is experienced port effi ciency slides. She said there are times of the year when the ports are more prone to congestion, delays, and additional costs, usually when business takes a slight bump. Voisin said the extent t o which the national port capacity can deal with trade requirements is extremely important.
'Ports continue to invest in technology to better serve the market, but getting the right model to expand port capacity in T&T continues to be a medium- to long-term challenge. Port of Spain is going forward with an operational restructuring, and consultants Maritime & Transport Business Solutions (MTBS) BV are preparing the Strategic Plan to lead capacity. Our role here is to provide feedback and the critical local content to ensure a successful intervention,' she said.
Access to foreign exchange continues to be a challenge to the industry, she lamented.
'We are interwoven, the struggle with local importers and shipping service providers to access US$ currency continues to affect the industry negatively. In the main, driving up costs. What is needed here is for the industry to be moved up the priority list for access to foreign exchange. We have made an application to the Government for this consideration, without success, but we will continue to persist until something happens,'Voisin emphasised.
Freight rates on the decline
On the freight rates side, the SATT head said it is decreasing, which is good news for the trade.
She said the industry's experience is that in some markets rates have returned close to pre-pandemic levels; this is the case with cargo from the far east and Europe. Freight rates from the US and Americas, she disclosed, have not been as co-operative, but they are heading in the right direction.
Voisin conveyed that from the Far East, the average container freight rates are US$6,000 for a 20 ft container, and US$7,000 for a 40 ft. This she said is less than half the average price during the pandemic and from the US, rates vary significantly de pending on the loading port, but out of Miami, the rates average US$3,000 for a 20 ft and US$4,000 for a 40 ft container. 'These are strong indications that rates are stabilising, however, one of the lessons learned over the last two years is that uncertainty is a con- stant, and with energy price fluctuations, geo-political upheaval, rising inflation, and food supply vulnerabilities, these rates are likely to be sensitive to shocks in any of these areas,'Voisin acknowledged.
Speaking about crime, which is affect ing the country, she said the increase in criminal activity has affected trade nega tively and there has been a noted increase in guns and narcotic seizures at points of entry into the country, usually resulting in operational delays and at times temporary facility closures.
According to Voisin, this matter is of national importance and an integrated approach including all stakeholders and law enforcement needs to be engaged to solve this in the shortest possible time.
Caribbean shipping conference in October The other strategic deliverable for Voisin is the hosting of the Caribbean Shipping Association (CSA) 53rd Annual General Meeting, Conference, and Exhibition on October 23-24 of this year in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
She said this event is the marquee event in Regional Shipping and sees the participation of shipping and maritime decision-makers worldwide from the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe. 'The conference promotes critical discus- sions on all aspects of shipping affecting the region and provides a platform for quality networking and opportunity generation. Approximately 400 decision-makers are expected to attend, and I have already commenced implementing the imperatives to deliver the best CSA conference ever witnessed,' Voisin said.
About the new president
Sonja Voisin was elected president in March, having previously served as president in 2005 and 2018.
With over 33 years of experience in the Regional Shipping and Maritime Industry, she is currently the managing director of Gulf Shipping Ltd and Director of Gulf and Maritime Services Ltd.
Voisin also serves as a director at the National Flour Mills (NFM), where she is a member of the Audit Committee.
She has also contributed as a Commissioner at the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago and as the General Counsel of the Caribbean Shipping Association (CSA).
She noted that it is not rare to find wom en in the Industry, but traditionally they have been under-represented in leadership roles.
Voisin said this is changing at an impressive rate, particularly on the commercial side of the industry.
'One only has to look at the composition of the Association's leadership to observe the change. On the nautical and engineering side of shipping, however, while women are now functioning in roles there, they are in the minority. The SATT actively participates in the Women in Maritime Association Caribbean (WiMAC) and uses this network and others to drive inclusion in the industry,' she said.
The new president of the Shipping Association of Trinidad and Tobago (SATT), Sonja Voisin.