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TT to table ECLAC proposal at Caricom meeting

Sasha Harrinanan Thursday, June 8 2017

click on pic to zoom in

Debt relief for members of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) will be on the agenda at the next Heads of Government meeting in Grenada next month, Prime Minister (PM) Dr Keith Rowley announced during a press conference on May 31, shortly after his return from a three-day official visit to Chile.

“The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) is headquartered in Santiago and as part of the visit, I was able to meet with the leaders of ECLAC (who) put a proposal on the table which, by our recommendation, will be on its way to Caricom headquarters in the next few weeks.

TT will put it on the agenda for the next Heads of Government meeting in Grenada in July,” Rowley said.

He explained that “the gist of the proposal is to make a major drive for debt relief for all Caricom countries (while) the developed countries who are carrying that debt should be made, not to write off those monies but to put such monies into a fund that can be put to the aid of Caricom countries when shock situations develop.” He said ECLAC recommended the funds be set aside in this manner because their research has shown that “the condition of indebtedness in Caricom is driven by these periodic shocks, whether it’s an earthquake, hurricane and I dare say, a price collapse of the scale we’re experiencing now in oil and gas.

Because our economies are so unidimensional, the loss of revenues force these countries into debt and it’s a downward spiral. You go into the debt but you can’t get out of it.” Meanwhile, in a statement issued the day before, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Barcena, said the commission advocates so that Caribbean nations “are not unjustly qualified as middle-income countries, a situation that complicates their access to financing.” Barcena also argued that special attention should be paid to the triple vulnerability that Caribbean territories suffer with respect to climate change, difficulties financing their economies and high public debt, which, on average, totals 70 percent of the subregional Gross Domestic Product.

She proposed that ECLAC reduce the debt of English-speaking Caribbean island states by pardoning part of their debt to create a resilience fund that allows for financing climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

“We are ready to help you. We want to know what your needs are to provide assistance for overcoming the problems that affect the Caribbean today,” Barcena stated.

The ECLAC meeting was one of several on the Trinidad delegation’s packed agenda. Rowley was accompanied on the visit by Energy Minister Franklin Khan, Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, Foreign Affairs Minister Dennis Moses, and Minister in the Ministry of Attorney General and Legal Affairs/Minister in the Office of the PM, Stuart Young.

Standing at the podium in the VIP Lounge, Piarco International Airport, Piarco while the aforementioned ministers sat at the head table, Rowley said, “We met all the people that we wanted to meet and we met the people who make the decisions.” “Therefore, we now have two things on the table. One is the partial scope agreement, which we will work on assiduously. Minister Paula Gopee- Scoon (and her team) have started that work and we’re going to try and accelerate it. The other one is, we are hoping that we can get an air services agreement, so that we can have better or more useful air transport through TT.” Providing context for the proposed air services agreement, Rowley said members of the Federation of Chilean Industry (SOFOFA) had expressed the view “that TT has the potential to be a clearing house for Chile going forward into the Atlantic and into the Caribbean.” “Tourism, air transport and of course sea transport; now that we are using the Panama Canal in the way that the big ships can, there’s a lot that can come out of it. Hopefully, if we are sufficiently nimble, some arrangements between our business sector and (Chile’s) business sector could see some good things (develop).” Rowley met with SOFOFA members on May 30 when he presented an overview of TT’s energy sector and the plans for its future development to the Chilean energy sector during a breakfast meeting hosted by the federation.

Founded in 1883, SOFOFA is a private, non-profit trade association representing the views and interests of Chilean industry. SOFOFA has 2,500 corporate affiliates, 36 sector association affiliates, and eight regional affiliates.

Regarding TT’s position as a major supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Chile, Rowley said, “TT is running a significant trade advantage with Chile because while they are buying from us, hundreds of millions of dollars in energy, we buy from them a small amount of other things.” During the SOFOFA talks, “one of the things that came up was how fast can we accelerate our negotiations (to complete) a partial scope agreement which would...allow selected TT products; like LNG, (entry) into the Chilean market duty-free and of course, some Chilean products enter TT’s market.” Rowley pointed out that while Chile has a large number of trade agreements with other countries, there is none in place with TT. “So if we are to not be disadvantaged, it would fall to us to very quickly conclude a proper trade agreement with Chile.” Noting that any partial scope agreement would have to be signed off on by Caricom, the PM said Jamaica, like Chile, is moving to LNG “as their fuel supply.” “In the Jamaican case, it is not TT’s LNG. It’s an American company, which we expect would want to use American gas; a private sector arrangement. We will have to ask for a Jamaican agreement for TT to get a partial scope clearance for certain duties outside. I hope that these discussions will not be insurmountable but it’s a very complex business that’s developing and what we are trying to do here, for our country, is to stay ahead of the game and be in a position to ensure that the interests of TT are protected and well-executed.” Rowley also said the establishment of a partial scope agreement between both countries is important for TT’s LNG exports, particularly since we are now facing potential competition from suppliers in the United States.

“On (May 30), we took a visit to the Port of Quintero where the LNG re-classification plant operates. It’s a private sector plant (GNL Quintero) but it’s at the centre of Chile’s major policy shift to convert its energy use to natural gas. We got there just a few hours after the 299th ship left that pier. We were advised that of the 299 cargoes of LNG that were discharged at that pier, 225 came from Point Fortin.” “I tell you this so you can understand how important Chile is to TT. It’s a replacement market for the markets we lost in Boston and elsewhere. It’s also a market where there’s to be some significant expansion but that expansion is now of interest to our competitors, not the least of which is the United States.” Now that TT is focused on deepening its ties with Chile, a delegation from the South American nation is expected to visit this country “very soon,” Rowley stated, “to follow up on the doors that we’re trying to open.”

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