Trinidad & Tobago is open for business and the current government is committed to fostering sustainable growth through trade and investment, particularly with traditional partners like Canada, said T & T’s Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, during last week’s official visit.
Canadian investment in the twin-island republic has grown from Can $50 million in 1992 to nearly $1.3 billion and annual two-way merchandise trade is approaching $600 million through a 45 per cent growth in the last seven years.
T & T and Canada have enjoyed a close and healthy relationship for many decades.
Canada appointed a full-time trade commissioner to Port-of-Spain in 1938 and diplomatic ties between the two countries were established shortly after T & T gained independence 51 years ago.
“Long-held and well-nurtured friendships are worth their weight in gold and are not easily broken,” Persad-Bissessar told Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, at a Canadian Council for the Americas cocktail reception at the Royal York Hotel. “Even as we acknowledge the changing patterns in world trade and investment flows and as we look to embrace new emerging markets of the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – along with South Africa and the wider Latin American region, we will also commit and consolidate our longstanding relationships with our traditional partners such as your country.
“As you will agree, trade and investment have the potential not only to increase economic security, but also to strengthen the relationship between nations. As a government, we see ourselves as the facilitator of business and the creator of opportunities in the business sector rather than as a competitor with the private sector. We are also quite open to public-private sector partnerships and so as we move steadily towards our goal of improving the quality of life and ensuring sustained prosperity for all of our citizens, our approach is to see those who knock on our doors as valued customers. We know that the knock has potential which must convert into investments.”
Several T & T entrepreneurs with an interest in expanding and establishing networking links accompanied the PM on the state visit.
Approximately 175 T & T firms – primarily in the manufacturing and energy sectors – have consistent export links with Canada, and several Canadian companies in the energy and banking sectors have been doing business in T & T for many years.
“So what we are witnessing is the growing confidence in Trinidad & Tobago by the Canadian business community,” said Persad-Bissessar, T & T’s first female PM who leads the People’s Partnership, which is a coalition of four parties. “I assure you that the government of Trinidad & Tobago is committed to strengthening business and commercial relations between our country and Canada.”
In addition to hosting the third annual Caribbean Investment Forum in June, T & T and Canada will co-host a CARICOM public-private partnership seminar and business meetings later this year in Port-of-Spain.
The seminar will bring together representatives from government, private sector, international financial institutions and multilateral development banks from Canada and T & T and the broader CARICOM and international community to share best practices and how they can be applied further in their jurisdictions.
“I welcome the expertise that Canada will bring to this sphere of business activities,” said Persad-Bissessar.
While in Ottawa, the T & T and Canadian leaders signed bilateral agreements that will reinforce the twin-island republic’s longstanding membership in the Department of National Defence’s military training and co-operation program, enable the cross-accreditation of a Canadian Defence Attaché to T & T that will serve to further expand the defence links between the two countries, improve the Caribbean’s region preparedness and ability to respond effectively to natural disasters and increase opportunities for students and academics at Brock University and the University of Trinidad & Tobago.
For the past 20 years, six T & T students have been awarded four-year undergraduate scholarships at Brock and there are currently 12 students pursuing studies in several fields, including biomedical science, child & youth studies and business administration at the St. Catharines university.
Under the new agreement, Brock will seek to promote international and intercultural understanding, relevant research and valuable exchange between the two universities.
“These arrangements not only make our countries stronger, but they deepen our friendship that I truly believe is a model for the hemisphere,” said Harper. “In fact I would go further. I think this relationship is a model for the world. I saw this most vividly when I visited Trinidad & Tobago in 2009 and I was privileged to spend some time at the Maple Leaf School which is one of two institutions that uses the same curriculum as Ontario.
“It points to a particular closeness that on any given day, a girl in Grade Four in Petit Valley is using the same material as a Grade Four boy in Grand Valley, Ontario. And who knows; they may meet here in Canada, perhaps at Brock University.”
Persad-Bissessar’s official visit to Canada was just the second by a T & T Prime Minister after the late Sir Eric Williams paid a state visit in 1966.
“Much has changed for both of our countries in the intervening years, but what has remained constant is the dynamic and productive relationship between Trinidad & Tobago and Canada,” said Persad-Bissessar.
She pointed to the trade links between the two countries that date back to the 18th century when Canada traded fish and lumber for molasses, rum and spices and Canada’s Presbyterian church contribution, under the leadership of Rev. John Morton, to increase education opportunities in the twin-island republic.
Arriving in Trinidad in 1868, Morton and his colleagues set up schools alongside churches, providing a valuable education for under-served children in rural communities.
“Education is the key out of poverty and it’s the passport to a better life, so Canada has helped us in that regard,” said Persad-Bissessar, T & T’s sixth PM.
Persad-Bissessar and her delegation left Canada last Saturday.