Germany, Trinidad and Tobago plan to strengthen bilateral relations

German ambassador Christophe Eick at the German Embassy, Port of Spain, St Clair on September 26 - Jeff K. Mayers
German ambassador Christophe Eick at the German Embassy, Port of Spain, St Clair on September 26 - Jeff K. Mayers

The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 was a pivotal moment for Germany, when it became a new republic, unifying East and West Germany after decades of separation throughout the Cold War.

Likewise, when TT became a republic in 1976, after 14 years of independence, a new nation's citizens could manage their own destinies through their own head of state, instead of continuing under British rule.

With both countries celebrating the births of their nations – TT having celebrated Republic Day on September 24 and Germany celebrating Unification Day on October 3 – newly-appointed German Ambassador to TT Christophe Eick wants both countries to see the challenges they share, and how they can unite to make significant changes in the world, just as significant changes were made in both nations.

Business Day talked to Eick at the German Embassy in St Clair, Port of Spain on September 26. He spoke on the similarities between Germany and TT, the shared challenges the two countries face and the opportunities that could be shared.

Shared challenge

Eick said one of the most apparent challenges that TT and Germany share is the global challenge of climate change and energy transition.

Eick said both countries are seeking to tackle the global challenge of energy transition, and although they are meeting it on different levels, they still face similar issues, one of which is dependency on fossil fuels.

"Energy transition is something that has to happen, but it certainly is a big challenge," Eick said. "It certainly is for countries that have depended on oil and gas for quite some time. I can very much understand that for TT it is something that is a challenge and there might be a different pace of transition."

He noted Germany's involvement in the development of TT's oil and gas sector, with the German company Proman operating in TT for 30 years – building infrastructure and leveraging natural gas.

Eick also noted the challenges that Germany faces with its own dependency on fossil fuels, particularly with natural gas.

On the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, Germany sought to break off its relationship with Russia, which oversaw the supply of natural gas to Germany and Europe via the Nord Stream and gas company Gazprom. Gazprom has since been nationalised and renamed SEFE and has been engaging in relationships with several countries around the world to ensure they are not dependent on Russia’s natural gas.

“This was a big lesson for us, which is that we should not be dependent on one supplier, because look at what happened. Obviously, we could not continue with this business model with Russian companies. We have ended this completely and this has certainly accelerated our transition – the Ukraine/Russian invasion moment which made us realise that we need to transition faster.”

The separation from Russian gas was not seamless, however, with several countries in Europe, including Germany, resorting to firing up coal-fired power plants to meet their energy needs in winter. According to reports, Germany has begun to phase out its coal plants again, with some shut down since June and others expected to be shut down by March.

“There was a discussion about whether we had to use coal longer than we had anticipated. We have solved that problem.

“The coal industry is shutting down,” Eick said. “But there are other things that we have to do for a longer time, in particular using LNG.”

WAVING THE FLAG: Spectators enjoy the Independence Day parade. - Ayanna Kinsale

He said Germany considers LNG a transition fuel which could be used for another 20 years, noting TT’s LNG industry and that TT transports a significant amount to Europe and by extension Germany. In 2021, according to a Reuters report, TT exported close to 7.9 million tonnes of LNG to Europe. In 2022, at the height of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, exports increased by about 40 per cent.

“Transition means it has to take a period of time. You just have to be clear where you want to go. The Government knows that it has to transition; it is just a question of how to do it.”

Shared opportunities

Eick said in energy transition , TT and Germany also share opportunities in growing their hydrogen sector.

During his six weeks as ambassador he has already been in contact with German-based companies that would have an interest in TT’s renewable energy transition. Thus far, he said he had recently been in talks with global energy company Siemens Energy, trying to gauge the company’s interest in TT.

“Siemens are leaders worldwide for anything that has to do with energy projects, and in particular with renewable energy. They have an office in Point Lisas, and I think they would be very interested in entering into business relations with TT.”

He added that Siemens is already working with HDF TT and Kennesjay Green Ltd on hydrogen projects.

“What makes TT attractive, I think, is that you have an infrastructure here, a long tradition of petrochemicals and energy, and you have the technical know-how. If you look at the thousands of people that come out of your universities who are extremely well trained in all aspects of energy, this is an attractive market.

“What we at the embassy can provide is help with connecting TT with these companies and making sure that the framework is there, and our chancellor said very clearly last week that we are offering our technical know-how to anyone that is interested.”

TT and Germany do not only share opportunities in energy. Eick said the embassy is already engaged in connecting TT and Germany with cocoa.

“TT cocoa is world-famous. It is once again gaining traction in TT,” he said.

He recalled visiting UWI some 30 years ago and meeting with Prof Pathmanathan Umaharan, who was back then overseeing the development of the cocoa gene bank. He said the fact that he is being honoured now (Umaharan was awarded the Order of the Republic of TT this year) is an indication of the importance of cocoa in TT.

He even spoke about a business called Ubergreen, a company that connects with small-scale cocoa farmers to export.

“They do small scale production of chocolate but export to Europe is their main business model.”

Honorary Trini

For all intents and purposes, Eick is an honorary Trini. In his first stint at the embassy some 30 years ago when it was based on Marli Street, he was able to absorb everything about TT from its industries to its culture. He is even married to a Trinidadian.

He said having returned to TT, he noticed many things have changed, just as in Germany, but TT citizens’ love for their country and the fact that it has strong and vocal leaders have not.

“We all have changed. We are more acutely aware of the challenges that we face, one of which is climate change.”

He lauded the Prime Minister for his speech at the UN General Assembly, where Dr Rowley spoke out against crime, making the murder of four young people in Guanapo the centre of his address.

“Crime, in particular guns and ammunition, is a scourge for this country and for the region. Many countries are trying to help, because it also has an effect on (other countries), including Europe. It is a challenge that we also share.”

He expressed condolences to relatives of the victims of the Guanapo killings.

Eick said each country has to seek its own path in curbing criminal activities, and in order to reduce it, there has to be a holistic approach. He said there has to be buy-in from the public and a belief in the system for any attempt to curb crime to be successful.

“You would see in Germany, when we want to fix something in our society, there are a lot of areas where we make improvements.”

He said most of all he admired how TT celebrates. He was able to be part of the recent Independence and Republic Day celebrations and said both exemplify a similar unity to that of Germany's Unity Day.

"(On Independence Day) I was impressed by the people standing – not in the Grand Stand because they had shade, but there were people standing in the blazing sun; and they were the ones cheering the most. And President Kangaloo and all the armed forces that stood for hours in the sun were also impressive. That went on through the evening, with fireworks and more celebrating. It was a really peaceful atmosphere.

“The Republic Day award ceremony was really an example of what TT people can achieve,” he added. “Because they came from all walks of life, and did a tremendous amount for this country and beyond.”


"Germany, Trinidad and Tobago plan to strengthen bilateral relations"

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