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Last updated: 03 July, 2009 - Published 11:49 GMT
 
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Trinidad flexes money muscle
 
Trinidad PM Patrick Manning
Patrick Manning has promoted his vision for uniting the states of the Caribbean
Trinidad and Tobago has given notice that it is eager to affirm the role of big brother in the Caribbean Community (Caricom).

The country's Prime Minister Patrick Manning has put forward new proposals for economic cooperation with four of its financially-stressed neighbours.

A previous initiative with Barbados in the 1980s - which included a joint venture air cargo company and a cement factory - ended in relative failure.

The cargo firm has long since disappeared and the cement plant in northern Barbados was eventually rescued by a Trinidad firm.

Mr Manning is clearly prepared to try again as he surveys the difficult landscape in the region.

"The disparity in the economic position between Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean is sometime that is a source of concern," he told parliament last month.

Growing ties

Mr Manning said the government was considering ideas for projects with Grenada, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica.

Grenada has already confirmed that it had been approached to host an aircraft maintenance facility for Port of Spain's Caribbean Airlines.

Foreign minister Peter David said the plan was another sign of the growing relationship between the two countries.

Perhaps the most significant project is the resurrection of a proposal to sell liquefied natural gas to Jamaica.

Trinidad and Tobago signed an agreement in 2004 to sell Jamaica 1.1 million tonnes of LNG per year for 20 years, beginning in 2009.

Trinidad later said it could not supply the gas to Jamaica because supplies were inadequate.

But Mr Manning told parliament that supplies had become available because the global supply and demand situation for gas has changed.

Falling prices

The two countries had haggled in the past over Jamaica's claim to be sold the product at the same price as Trinidad's principal buyer the United States.

Details like those will have to be fleshed out and feasibility studies conducted.

flags of Caricom nations
The economic crisis has led to a reduction of growth in the Caribbean

But Mr Manning said his country "cannot sit idly by" while its neighbours suffered.

Trinidad and Tobago relies on natural gas and oil for 40 percent of its gross domestic product and 80 percent of its exports. The oil portion continues to shrink somewhat.

Even though falling oil prices have hurt Trinidad and Tobago revenues this year, the country is still far better positioned than almost all of the region to weather the economic crisis.

Mr Manning noted that the jobless rate in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) was between 15 and 25 percent.

He said: "If the economic situation in those countries is unable to guarantee their populations a standard of living to which they aspire, then that is likely to lead to mass migration into the areas where they feel a better way of life might be available."

Opposition

That argument did not find favour with the Trinidad Guardian newspaper which said that no migration phenomenon had taken place during the past 15years even though Trinidad's growth has generally outstripped Caricom's.

The paper also called on him to provide more evidence that his project will yield for the country.

That was a point taken up strongly by Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday who said, the government should look after its own citizens first.

"Right now, I do not think we can afford this," he said.

Leader of the small opposition Congress of the People party, Winston Dookeran, was more supportive.

"I have no doubt that we should increase our investment (in the region)," he told BBC Caribbean.

Trinidad already has a functioning so-called petroleum fund to help out needy Caricom nations on a case by case basis.

Apart from the migration fears, Mr Manning said Trinidad and Tobago's well-being depended on the health of Caricom, which is the country's second largest trading partner after the United States.

A fifth of exports go to the OECS region, with which Trinidad and Tobago is also seeking to forge an economic union - another sign that it is prepared to flex its financial muscle.

 
 
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