Category Archives: Trinidad & Tobago

Trump’s Trade Executive Orders target deficit and uncollected AD/CV Duties

Alicia Nicholls

United States (US) President Donald Trump has sent a warning signal to those countries which he accuses of engaging in ‘unfair trading practices’ argued to be costing American manufacturing jobs. Proclaiming that the “theft of American prosperity will end,” the President concluded the work week by signing two trade-focussed executive orders aimed respectively at identifying the causes of the US’ reported $500 billion dollar total trade deficit and the $2.3 billion dollars (as at May 2015) in uncollected anti-dumping and countervailing duties owed to the US government. Ultimately, the twinned measures are to “set the stage for the revival of US manufacturing” as noted in the President’s remarks at the signing ceremony.

Presidential Executive Order Regarding the Omnibus Report on Significant Trade Deficits

Taking aim at the US’ trade deficit  blamed for a decline in American prosperity and jobs, President’s Trump executive order mandates the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, and the United States Trade Representative (USTR), Robert Lighthizer (yet to be confirmed) to prepare and submit to him an Omnibus Report on Significant Trade Deficits. This is to be done in consultation with relevant departments and agencies. The Secretary of Commerce and the USTR may hold public meetings and receive comments from relevant government and non-governmental stakeholders.

Primarily, this report is to examine the US’ trading relationships country by country. It will identify those foreign trading partners with which the US had a significant trade deficit in goods in 2016, and seek to ascertain the reasons for the deficits, including whether it is because of trade abuses (or what President Trump has termed “cheating”) by these countries, assess the effects of the trade relationship on US employment and wage growth and identify imports and trade practices that may be impairing US national security.

Most Caribbean countries can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief as the US has a trade surplus with the Region, as at the last report on the operation of the CBERA. The exception is the oil-rich Trinidad & Tobago which enjoys a merchandise trade surplus with the United States. According to US Census Bureau data, in 2016, the US imported $2,961 million in goods from the twin-island republic and exported $2,334 million, resulting in a deficit of $617 million. Natural gas, crude oil and petrochemicals comprise the majority of US imports from Trinidad & Tobago as this table shows.

While it may appear that Trinidad & Tobago might potentially be in the Administration’s cross-hairs as it has a trade surplus with the US, it should be noted that (a) the US’ deficit with Trinidad & Tobago in 2016 was not ‘significant’ and has been declining since 2011 (b) the Report is supposed to consider other factors as well, including whether the country engages in ‘unfair trading practices’ which Trinidad & Tobago does not. (c) As the Trump Administration will seek to increase US onshore petroleum production, its imports from Trinidad & Tobago (and its deficit with that country) will continue to decrease.

Presidential Executive Order on Establishing Enhanced Collection and Enforcement of Anti-dumping and Countervailing Duties and Violations of Trade and Customs Laws

In a warning salvo to China, President Trump’s second executive order targets US importers which evade anti-dumping/countervailing duties by improving collection of these duties at the border. Dumping in the trade context refers to where an exporter sells a product in an export market at a price lower than in the home market. Under the WTO’s Anti-dumping Agreement, a country may, after investigation, impose extra duties (anti-dumping duties) on a “dumped” product from another country to ensure the price is close to the “normal value” or to offset injury to its domestic industry.

Specifically, the executive order mandates the Secretary of Homeland Security, through the Commissioner of Customs & Border Patrol (CBP), to “develop and implement a strategy and plan for combating violations of US trade and customs laws for goods and for enabling interdiction and disposal”.

The order also seeks to ensure the timely and efficient enforcement of laws protecting intellectual property rights holders from the importation of counterfeit goods. It therefore requires the Treasury Secretary and the Secretary of Homeland Secretary to take all appropriate steps to ensure that the CBP can share any information with rights holders which is necessary to determine whether there has been an IPR infringement or violation, and regarding merchandise voluntarily abandoned, once such information is shared consistent with the law.

Memo on NAFTA

In other news, last week a leaked draft memo to Congress signed by the Acting USTR revealed what appeared to be the Administration’s orientation towards the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an agreement which Trump had called the “worst trade deal ever signed by the US”. However, during a daily press briefing the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, has said the memo is “not a statement of administration policy”.

Trade had been a major plank of President Trump’s platform, which aimed to stop ‘bad trade deals’ and eradicate the US’ trade deficit. One of his earliest executive orders was mandating the Acting USTR to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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The 2012 London Olympics: Rally around the Caribbean!

Alicia Nicholls

David Rudder’s famous calypso ‘Rally ’round the West Indies’ came to my mind as I watched the end of the track and field events of the 2012 London Olympics on television today with regional pride. This song, which has become the anthem of the West Indies cricket team, is about cricket but the regional pride and call to action which it exudes can apply to any facet of regional life.

Of the two hundred and four countries represented at the games of the XXX Olympiad, twenty-two were from the Caribbean,  representing our unique melting pot of cultures and tongues. Since the region’s first showing at the Olympic Games in London in 1948, the way for our younger athletes today has been paved by several regional track and field legends, the likes of which include: Arthur Wint (Jamaica’s first Olympic gold medalist),  Rodney Wilkes (Trinidad & Tobago’s first Olympic gold medalist), Hasely Crawford, Donald Quarrie, Merlene Ottey, Ato Bolden,  just to name a few.

I would be the first to admit that unlike previous years, I was not initially feeling the hype of the Summer Olympic Games this time around.  But by the second week of the games, the strong Caribbean presence, particularly in the track and field events, was enough to shake my apathy and keep me glued to my computer to hear the latest updates.

The London Olympic Games were full of heart-warming, tear-inducing moments for all Caribbean people here and in the diaspora. Thanks to Jamaican athletes Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s lightning fast wins in their respective 100m events, the Caribbean can boast the fastest man and woman on earth. Smashing world record after record, Usain Bolt has been the first to successfully defend an Olympic gold medal in not one but two events (men’s individual 100m and 200m) and has undoubtedly sealed his place in history as the greatest sprinter of all time. Anchored by Bolt, the record-setting performance of the Jamaican quartet in the 4 by 100m relay brought a resounding end to the track and field events for the region.

The 2012  London Olympics has been the best Olympic Games for the Caribbean in terms of medal tally and the distribution of medals. The region won 15 medals in Sydney, 15 in Beijing and now 18 medals in London, of which  7 are gold medals.  This is also the best Olympic performance by individual CARICOM countries, with Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and the Bahamas all winning Olympic gold in track and field events. Jamaica has finished third overall in the track and medal table, winning 12 medals, only behind the United States and Russia, but ahead of other big countries like the UK. While the English-speaking Caribbean’s medal success has been in track and field, Cuba represented the region well off-track by winning gold in judo, boxing, shooting and wrestling.

Perhaps the most poignant moments  of the games for me were the successes of our young, first-time Olympians. Hitherto unknown and not yet twenty, Trinidad & Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott became the first person from the western hemisphere in over six decades to win Olympic gold in the javelin throw. Kirani James’ stunning win in the 400m dash gave Grenadians the world over their country’s first Olympic medal and the inspirational moment of hearing their national anthem being played at an Olympic Stadium for the first time.

The Caribbean is traditionally used to world-dominance in cricket, producing some of the greatest cricketers the world has ever seen. Now our region’s world class track and field athletes have shown the rest of the world that the track dust which we stir up is larger than the dots that represent us on maps. The symbolism of the Caribbean’s domination of the track and field events in this year’s games cannot be escaped.  For the English-speaking Caribbean, being able to flex our athletic muscle and assert our dominance against seasoned athletes from metropolitan countries, in the capital city of our former mother country, was an empowering feeling. The performance of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago is particularly symbolic given that this August marks a half century of both countries’ independence from Great Britain.

Nothing can compare to the pride I felt seeing the flags of Caribbean countries being hoisted in the air or the look of achievement and love of country and region on the faces of our athletes as they stood atop the podiums to receive their medals at the medal ceremonies. It is Caribbean athletes’ names that will be on the lips of all who speak of the London Olympics of 2012. Their prowess will be etched in our memories forever.

In addition to this, the Caribbean pride I saw glowing from the status updates and comments of my Facebook friends, the impassioned cries of Caribbean unity and “one Caribbean” was truly encouraging particularly at a time when so many are bemoaning the apparent stagnation of CARICOM and the regional integration movement on a whole. Caribbean people both in the region and in the diaspora have been united in their celebration of regional athletes’ success at the London Olympic Games of 2012. The Caribbean pride that I saw during these games was not manufactured. It was genuine. Never again can anyone say that Caribbean integration is beyond our reach. Just as we have put parochialism and petty stereotypes about each other aside momentarily for the past days and rallied around our Olympic athletes, it is about high time our governments get serious about regional integration and rally together for the good of the region.

The Caribbean could not have asked for a better performance from our ambassadors. All of our Caribbean Olympians, whether they medaled or not, are champions and deserve heartfelt congratulations from the region. You have made our people proud!

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at @LicyLaw.

Is ALBA a threat to CARICOM integration?

Alicia Nicholls

CARICOM countries could soon make up the majority of member states in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). At the bloc’s 11th Summit last month in Caracas, both Suriname and St. Lucia  formally expressed their intention to become members of the eight-member group. They would join four other CARICOM countries which are already ALBA member states: Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and more recently, Haiti.

The wave of interest in ALBA, a regional bloc which like CARICOM envisions deep integration between its members, comes against a backdrop of stagnation and crisis in the CARICOM integration process.  While ALBA leaders at their 11th Summit agreed to move full speed ahead to deepen their integration with the creation of a single monetary union – ECOALBA, CARICOM Heads of Governments caught most people by surprise last year when they inexplicably put the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) on ‘pause’ during their retreat in Guyana. It was a decision for which Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves recently expressed regret. In a candid letter sent to the Secretary General of CARICOM which effused both lament and frustration at the current ‘standstill’ in CARICOM, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves made mention of the augmented interest by CARICOM countries in courting ALBA. He predicted that more CARICOM countries were likely to follow suit and rhetorically asked what would be the implications of this for CARICOM.

ALBA is one of the most well-known South-South trade initiatives in the Western Hemisphere, not just because it was the brain child of the outspoken and no-nonsense President of Venezuela, Mr. Hugo Chavez, but because it potentially represents a more equitable alternative to the traditional neoliberal model of regionalism. It was launched by Venezuela and Cuba in 2004 originally as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, and as an alternative to the now moribund Free Trade Area of the Americas which had been pushed by the United States. Drawing inspiration from the political thought of freedom fighters Jose Marti and Simon Bolivar, ALBA’s stated aim is to be a political, economic and social alliance which seeks to protect the independence, sovereignty, self-determination and identity of its Member States, and to protect the interests of the peoples of the South from political and economic domination.

If the question of ALBA’s threat to the CARICOM integration process is considered purely on the compatibility of ALBA CARICOM countries’ obligations, the flexibility which ALBA gives its members in terms of the initiatives which they can choose to be a part of means that ALBA CARICOM countries are free to refrain from initiatives which could conflict with their CARICOM and OECS obligations.  In the declaration of accession signed by St Vincent and the Grenadines for example, the Gonsalves Government made clear that as a regional movement ALBA does not alter but complements its obligations in other regional movements such as the OECS and CARICOM.  Thus, St Vincent and the Grenadines, like the other OECS members of ALBA, has not introduced the new regional trading currency – the sucre in light of its membership in the OECS’ monetary union.

A more immediate domain for conflict between ALBA and CARICOM obligations appears to be in the area of foreign policy. Foreign policy coordination is one of the stated objectives of CARICOM per the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and one of the pillars of functional cooperation.  While ALBA Members are given flexibility in foreign policy, ALBA as a group has been outspoken on several current conflicts, including throwing support in a recent declaration solidly behind Argentina in the recently escalating Falkland Islands dispute between that country and the United Kingdom.  The decision was made to join several other Latin American countries, including Argentina, to prevent Falkland-flagged ships from docking at their ports.  Although the ALBA CARICOM countries have not all come out and said whether their individual stance was in consonance with that of ALBA’s, one would not be unreasonable by taking their silence as agreement with the ALBA position. This position however is diametrically opposed to that taken by the non-ALBA members of CARICOM which have supported the Falkland Islands’ right to self-determination, that is, their right to remain British. Dr. Gonsalves’ stance on the issue caused some controversy in his country. However, on a larger scale, such divergence in policy position could be evidence of the potential threat of further fragmentation in the region’s foreign policy coherence.

Politics aside, there is no doubt that the main attraction of ALBA to those CARICOM countries which have acceded so far  is the developmental support provided by its founding countries Venezuela and Cuba. Havana has long been a development partner of many countries in the region. Through bilateral cooperation agreements signed between the Cuban government and the governments of the region, the people of the wider Caribbean have benefited from free eye care in Cuban hospitals under Operation Miracle, scholarships to study medicine at Cuban universities and free health care by Cuban doctors.  Haiti has also benefited from food and literacy programmes.

Under the Chavez administration, Venezuela has also taken a more active developmental role in the region. Since the establishment of the PetroCaribe Initiative in 2005, some 17 Caribbean countries, most of which are non-ALBA members, have benefitted from this arrangement which allows them to purchase oil on preferential terms of payment. Only part of the cost is paid up front and part can also be paid through the provision of agricultural goods. The remainder is repaid over a 25 year period at a 1% interest rate. The PetroCaribe deal has not been immune to criticism, and both Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago have not joined. Though such an arrangement helps in the short term to conserve much needed foreign exchange, it means that those countries which take oil on these terms are indebted to Venezuela in the longer term. Moreover, while PetroCaribe aims to promote energy security through the provision of “cheap” oil, Venezuelan fuel exports under the Agreement have decreased over time due to less available supply. Another criticism raised is that the ‘cheap oil’ provided under PetroCaribe increases the region’s dependence on the importation of fossil fuels. This latter argument is less persuasive given the increasing interest shown by CARICOM countries in renewable energy generation, through for instance geothermal, solar and wind energy.

The financial support offered by ALBA is  highly attractive to debt-ridden CARICOM countries faced with an uncertain global economic and financial climate. Loans are given at favourable terms and without most of the usual conditionalities insisted on by traditional donors. Through its loan funds, ALBA has provided funding for projects, including infrastructure, housing and agriculture projects in Dominica for example. St Vincent and the Grenadines also received a loan from the ALBA Bank for the construction of a new international airport.

The availability of credit under ALBA’s several funds can be contrasted with the limited capitalization of the CARICOM Development Fund. The CDF is provided for under Article 158 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas as a fund to provide financial and technical assistance to disadvantaged countries, regions and sections within the grouping. The limited capitalization of the CDF, plus problems with the Petroleum Facility and the perceived lack of sensibility to the OECS countries’ unique vulnerabilities, were some of the many shortfalls of CARICOM about which Dr. Gonsalves complained in his previously mentioned letter. Frustrations like these over ill-functioning regional aid mechanisms plus the more readily available economic aid under ALBA, could lead to more CARICOM countries turning their attention to ALBA.

One area in which CARICOM arguably maintains an upper-hand over ALBA is in trade. With a population of 70 million people, ALBA represents a larger market for regional goods than does CARICOM. That being said though, the export capabilities of the ALBA CARICOM remain too weak to effectively take advantage of this.  It is true that over the period 1999-2008, it is reported that average yearly trade between Venezuela and Antigua & Barbuda was USD 6.5 million, between Venezuela and Dominica, USD 179 million and between Venezuela and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 4.5 million dollars. However, given that petroleum trade accounts for most bilateral trade between Venezuela and ALBA CARICOM countries, the balance of trade is skewed in Venezuela’s favour.  While trade asymmetries do exist within CARICOM as well, the regime created by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas envisions the freedom of movement of goods, services, people (skilled) and capital within the Community, the right of Community nationals to establish businesses in other territories, as well as a competition commission which is charged with ensuring the rules of the market are respected.  ALBA has not as yet reached this level of integration. That being said, however, the large gulf between what the Revised Treaty provides for and what operates in practice in CARICOM has led to frustration that the expected benefits are not being seen.  Moreover, ALBA does intend to become an economic union, something which continues to elude CARICOM.

Although there is an undisputed role for ALBA as a development aid and trade partner for our countries, their main integration focus should be on deepening CARICOM integration. CARICOM is more than a trade group. It was founded on the vision of our regional founding fathers who believed that strength comes not through parochialism but through the political, economic and social unification of a people already united through a common history and a shared culture and values. Regardless of its many shortcomings, CARICOM, its organs and associated bodies, have played a tremendous role in the region for the past nearly forty years and can play an even greater role once a serious attempt is made at reform by our Heads of Government.

Moreover, although Venezuela is a useful ally for countries in the region by virtue of its stronger bargaining power in the international community, CARICOM’s interests as small states and those of Latin American countries, including Venezuela’s are not always complementary as seen in the Banana Wars in the WTO. It should also not be forgotten that Venezuela continues to have border disputes with two CARICOM States (Guyana and Dominica) which have still not been resolved and for which Venezuela has not changed its position.  A further caveat to bear in mind is that given the strong ideological divide in Venezuelan politics, there is no guarantee that whichever president eventually succeeds President Chavez would be leftist in political orientation or that he or she would be as sympathetic as his or her predecessor to the region’s concerns, or be committed to continuing ALBA and its component programs. Therefore, there is some concern about ALBA’s survivability in a post-Chavez era.

The real threat to CARICOM is not ALBA though, but CARICOM itself.  Impatience with the slow process of integration and its associated benefits at the CARICOM level has had as its natural corollary a desire to explore more seemingly attractive alternatives. It is not surprising therefore that the poorer countries in the region, and some of the larger countries like Suriname as well, have set their compass to ALBA for the superior economic security it provides and its seemingly better alignment with their interests.  Unless our Heads of Government act seriously on their commitment made at the last inter-sessional meeting to formulate a plan of action designed to reform CARICOM to make it more effective, there could be a day when all of our countries eventually turn their backs completely on CARICOM in favour of other blocs which they believe have both the ability and will to better cater to their peoples’ interests and needs. That would be a sad day.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at @LicyLaw.

What CARICOM needs: A little less conversation, a little more action please!

Alicia Nicholls

This catchy line from Elvis Presley’s song from the late 60s “A little less conversation” immediately came to mind as I read the flurry of news reports, commentary and analyses swirling around in the regional media for the past two weeks about the current state of crisis of CARICOM. The opinions expressed therein ranged from concern over CARICOM’s ailing health to fears that it had flat-lined. All acknowledge that our main regional body is in deep trouble.

The backdrop to this latest death scare was yet another report highlighting the weaknesses of CARICOM and the urgent need for reform. This independent consultants’ report, commissioned by the CARICOM Secretariat back in July 2010 and thankfully made available online recently, predicted that, ceteris paribus, CARICOM could be in the mortuary by 2017. It comes on the heels of a frank letter sent by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines to CARICOM Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque, and copied to the other Heads of Government, expressing grave concern about the current state of CARICOM.

This hurricane of bad news has quickly elicited a tsunami of denials and pledges of commitment to CARICOM from our leaders across the region. For example, our Prime Minister here in Barbados while acknowledging the challenges facing the region and the regional integration process, vehemently denied that any funeral for CARICOM needed to be planned any time soon. The response from regional leaders, though predictable, is encouraging, given that for the past few years many keen onlookers have been left to wonder about whether our leaders’ commitment to the regional process goes beyond mere lip service.

Truth be told, it has long been common knowledge that CARICOM has stagnated and faces serious challenges to its survival. The problems identified by the CARICOM Secretariat report and by Prime Minister Gonsalves in his letter are not new. Yet, despite a plethora of studies and recommendations on the same, successive CARICOM heads of government have been unable or unwilling to rectify them. One of the main problems has always been CARICOM’s weak governance structure which per the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas concentrates policy-making authority in the hands of the Conference of Heads of Government made up of the heads of government of the fifteen member countries. On the contrary, the Secretariat, set up as the body’s principal administrative organ and headed by the Secretary-General, has become overburdened with too many tasks, while having virtually no executive power. Moreover, the lack of a supranational structure means that there is a long interlude between when decisions are taken by the Heads of Government and their implementation, if they are ever implemented, at the national level. For this reason, many of the decisions taken by the Heads of Government remain for far too long at the paper and ink stage. It is this ‘implementation deficit’ which has been continually blamed for the slow process of integration and had been called the ‘Achilles heel of CARICOM’ by the West Indian Commission “Time for Action” Report published some two decades ago.

The real underlying problem of course is the lack of political will on the part of our leaders to “cede” any national autonomy to a regional body. This is despite the recommendation made in countless CARICOM-commissioned studies that what CARICOM needs is a stronger regional governance framework which would facilitate and expedite the policy implementation process. The jealous guarding of national autonomy on the part of our governments is also evidenced by some countries’ lukewarm support for key regional institutions. As yet only three countries (Barbados, Guyana and Belize) have signed on to the Caribbean Court of Justice’s appellate jurisdiction, although the recently elected Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Hon Portia Simpson-Miller has indicated her country’s willingness to join. However, the other countries in the region remain hesitant about switching to a Caribbean-based court, while they paradoxically cling fiercely to a vestige of colonialism, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The current economic and financial crisis has also increasingly caused our leaders to direct their attention inward towards national concerns, leaving many of the region’s key institutions of functional cooperation to become little more than ‘talk shops’ due to less and less funding from regional governments.

The truth is that we as a region need CARICOM now more than ever.  Besides our increasing geopolitical irrelevance and our economic marginalisation owing to our small size and loss of trade preferences, the international community is no longer as sympathetic to the economic and political vulnerabilities of non-LDC small states. CARICOM is our shield to an increasingly hostile international climate for small states.  Divided, our individual voices are little more than squeaks on the international stage. But together, our combined voice is less weak. Among other things, CARICOM gives us increased bargaining power in both multilateral and bilateral fora and negotiations and a wider market for regional goods, services and capital. Moreover, through functional cooperation, pooling our limited resources and our collective genius, we can and have achieved objectives which we would have been ill-equipped or completely unable to achieve as individual countries.

Is this latest report the wake-up call we need as a region? After all, the cynical among us would note that there have been endless studies, reports and other publications before sounding the alarm over the standstill in regional integration and bemoaning the lack of commitment of our governments. Despite this history of ‘a lot of conversation and little action’, I, perhaps naively, choose to be optimistic that this time we, the citzens of our region, will not be treated to more of the same old promises by our leaders.

The CARICOM Secretariat report was circulated to the Heads of Government before the 23rd Inter-Sessional Meeting on March 8-9, of the Heads of Government in Suriname. According to the communiqué released at the end of the meeting, the Heads of Government considered in-depth the report’s recommendations. Under the area of CARICOM-reform,  they agreed that the Secretary General would begin the process of restructuring the currently overburdened Secretariat with the help of a change facilitator. They also agreed that the Bureau of the Conference would work with an internal group from the Secretariat to facilitate improving regional governance and implementation. Although many of us expected to see more urgent action, it should be recognised that the current financial and economic situation of many of our countries does limit how much resources can be earmarked by our cash-strapped countries to comprehensive CARICOM-reform at this time. However, these two proposed reforms represent a step hopefully in the right direction and it is hoped that at their next meeting our leaders would, following consultations with civil society, have a more concrete plan of action for reform.

What we need is a little less conversation and more action by our leaders. From a structural point of view, the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas needs amending to provide a governance structure which would permit CARICOM to function effectively and efficiently and do the tasks for which it was established. It should also provide for and mandate greater participation by the wider society in the regional governance process. Further, it is my hope that among the areas for action would be increased regional funding and political support for regional institutions of functional cooperation. In this vein, all CARICOM countries should accept the CCJ as their final court of appeal and not just because it is a regional court. The CCJ has produced very enlightened jurisprudence so far in both its original and appellate jurisdictions and demonstrates that we as a people should have faith in the wisdom, capability and impartiality of our  judges. With regard to the CARICOM Single Market & Economy (CSME) which Caribbean leaders inexplicably placed on ‘pause’ at their retreat in Guyana last year, a greater commitment is needed by regional governments to remove unduly restrictive barriers to trade between our countries and foster a more vibrant regional market where people, goods, services and capital flow more easily. Part of this would require more concrete steps to deal with the prohibitively high cost of regional transportation.  However, all the hard work cannot be left to our leaders. If there is one thing that I have come to appreciate as a student in the beautifully diverse Faculty of Law at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies, is that we as a people in the region have to put our false nationalism and stereotypes of each other aside, and recognize that as diverse as we are, we are still one Caribbean people.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at @LicyLaw

Embracing ‘Mother India’: Some thoughts on prospects for enhanced India and Trinidad & Tobago trade

Alicia Nicholls

I was quite delighted when I read in the news last week that the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, the Hon Kamla Persad-Bissessar, is currently on a ten day official mission to India at the invitation of Indian Prime Minister, the Hon Manmohan Singh. Though I am not Trinibagonian or Indian for that matter, the news piqued my interest, particularly because I am a firm believer in south-south trade and development.  Two weeks ago, I wrote about the prospects of enhancing Brazil-CARICOM trade. This week, the state visit by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar serves as a good backdrop against which to consider the prospects for enhanced Trinidad & Tobago-India trade.

India-Trinidad & Tobago connection

Trinidad & Tobago proudly calls itself the land of steelpan, calypso and chutney. Successive waves of European colonialism, indenture-ship and later waves of migration have made the twin island republic one of the most multicultural societies in the Commonwealth Caribbean.

Trinidad & Tobago and India share more than just a deep passion for cricket. Though separated by many thousands of kilometers of land and sea, they are united by deep historic and cultural bonds rooted in the colonial experience. Indo-Trinibagonians are estimated to comprise 42% of that country’s population. Take a walk down the streets of Port of Spain on an average day and you can see restaurants and street vendors selling Indian-inspired local delicacies like roti and buss-up-shut. The uptempo rhythm of Chutney music shares the airwaves with soca and calypso and national holidays like Indian Arrival Day, Diwali and Eid-ul-Fitr are celebrated with reverence.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, whose ancestral village is in Bihar in India, is the first woman and the second person of Indian descent to ascend to the reins of Government in Trinidad & Tobago. She is also the first woman of the wider Indian diaspora to become a Head of Government.  Accompanied on the mission by a high-level ministerial and business delegation which also includes cricketing legend, Brian Lara, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar is the chief guest at the 10th Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD) ‘Global India-Inclusive Growth’ in Jaipur and will be conferred the coveted Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award.  The PBD is a prestigious annual event which unites distinguished persons of Indian origin across the world. The event is part of India’s wider efforts to court and harness the potential of its vast diaspora for socio-economic development in the homeland and Trinidad & Tobago has seized the opportunity with open arms.

Trinidad & Tobago-India Bilateral Trade

Trinidad & Tobago and India have long shared strong diplomatic ties, which have been cemented through formal and informal cultural exchanges over the years, including the establishment of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Cultural Cooperation in Port of Spain and the provision of Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme scholarships to  Trinibagonian students each year.

Trinidad & Tobago and India already do a fair and growing amount of bilateral trade.  According to a recent study published by the Export-Import Bank of India, Trinidad & Tobago is the leading country for Indian imports from the region, accounting for 79% in 2009-10 and is the second largest importer of Indian goods from the region (after the Bahamas).  The report reveals that manufactures of metals account for nearly half of Trinidad & Tobago’s imports from India followed by petroleum products, primary & semi-finished iron & steel, pharmaceutical products and plastic & linoleum products. Trinidad & Tobago is also the largest destination for Indian investment in the region, receiving 67.5% of these flows. The main sectors  for Indian investment in Trinidad & Tobago include finance, iron and steel and metal and food processing. Several major Indian multinational firms like Arcelor Mittal and the New India Assurance Co already have a presence in that country. India and Trinidad & Tobago also have a double taxation treaty.

Embracing ‘Mother India’

The move by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar to capitalize on India’s overtures towards engaging its diaspora for homeland development is a smart and strategic one. Despite its current economic woes, India remains one of the most robust and dynamic economies in the world.  Currently the world’s tenth largest economy, India is predicted by the economic think tank the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) to become the world’s  fifth largest economy by 2020.   Besides the gains which Trinidad & Tobago-India trade present for south-south trade, Indian expertise and investment could help in Trinidad & Tobago’s export diversification, while greater trade links with India could help reduce the vulnerability associated with an over-reliance on too few export markets.

Moreover, the move to embrace ‘Mother India’ is one which has global precedent. The Pacific island nation of Mauritius, which bears several similarities with Trinidad & Tobago including a large Indian diaspora, has strategically deepened its economic and cultural links with the sub-continent.  Mauritius is not only among the top direct investors in India, but the island is currently one of the preferred destinations for Indian outward FDI and serves a gateway for Indian investment in Africa.

Though Indian investment in foreign countries has slowed, closer economic ties between India and Trinidad & Tobago could make it easier for Indian businesses to invest in and do business in Trinidad & Tobago and vice-versa.  The Export-Import Bank of India study cited several areas of potential sectors of Indian investment in Trinidad & Tobago, chiefly energy, fish processing, film and ICTs.  Besides its low energy costs, well-skilled workforce and favourable investment climate and incentives package, the twin island republic’s geographic location  has also been touted by its Prime Minister as the perfect base for Indian investment in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region and for Ayurveda and wellness centres specialising in traditional Indian medicine and healing.

In terms of Trinidad & Tobago-India services trade, there is much potential as well given the skills and know-how which Indian professionals could continue to bring to Trinidad & Tobago, particularly in the areas of engineering, traditional Indian medicine and information technology. This expertise sharing will not be one-way. As Prime Minister Persad- Bissessar  acknowledged, Trinidad & Tobago can provide to India over a hundred years of technical expertise in oil and natural gas production. Indeed, Trinidad & Tobago is already sharing this expertise with other developing countries, including Ghana.

There is also much scope for expanded cultural industries trade and tourism given the strong cultural affinity many in the Indo-Trinibagonian community feel with ‘Mother India’ and the popularity of Bollywood music and films in Trinidad & Tobago. Trinidad & Tobago has also signaled an intention to promote steelpan music in India. Despite the long distance and prohibitive costs of air travel, Indo-Trinidadians seeking to trace their Indian roots and to learn about their ancestral home could be a good target market for Indian tourism officials. In regards to Indian tourism in Trinidad & Tobago, the Trinidad & Tobago government has already waived visa restrictions on Indians visiting that country for tourism and business purposes within a 90 year period.

Indeed, the prospects for deepening Trinidad & Tobago and Indian trade are bright and exciting. According to the joint statement released by India and Trinidad & Tobago, bilateral agreements have already been signed on cooperation in the areas of air services, culture, technical education and traditional Indian medicine. Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar has also offered Trinidad & Tobago as a venue for hosting PBDs in the Caribbean. I think it would be useful for Trinidad & Tobago and India to encourage cooperation between their respective investment promotion agencies in order to better inform potential investors of investment opportunities in their respective countries and to facilitate the flow of investments between the two countries.  Just two more days are left in the official visit. I look forward to what other prospects they bring.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at @LicyLaw.