Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana Accreditations
8th March 2011 by Andrew Needs, Ottawa | No Comments
Over the past month I have visited all four of my countries of accreditation in the Caribbean. In mid-February I visited Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana. This follows a visit to Jamaica in late January, which I have already outlined in an earlier blog.
My visit to Trinidad and Tobago was also my first, delayed previously because of national elections in 2010. On arrival in Port of Spain what struck me first was how much it actually reminded me of my own capital city, Wellington. Not something I was expecting, but similar size with waterfront crowded with high rises, with low rises behind and running up to hills where houses were dotted amongst the trees. Of course the temperature was marginally warmer. Trinidad and Tobago’s economy is humming along based in significant part on oil and gas revenues. The government however is conscious that this is a finite resource and it has a strong focus on diversification and growth into areas that create jobs. I had an excellent meeting with Trade Minister Stephen Cadiz, who is leading the charge on the diversification front. Like so many people one meets overseas, Minister Cadiz has his “New Zealand connection” story. His daughter was studying in Australia and when visiting her they took in a tour of New Zealand. My call on the President again showed the depth of knowledge and interest in New Zealand, how we make our living and the role we play in the international community. As a chemical engineer, His Excellency Professor Richards, was interested to compare and contrast our nation’s respective experiences with regard to minerals extraction, energy self sufficiency and the green challenge. My discussion with Foreign Minister Rambachan ranged over many of our shared international interests, including the impact of climate change on small island states, the role of multilateralism and in particular the United Nations. With Trinidad and Tobago as current chair of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (they hosted the last summit in Port of Spain in November 2009) we also covered the Commonwealth’s role in fostering good governance amongst its membership.
This was my third visit to Barbados and my main meeting was with Foreign Minister Senator Maxine McClean. We discussed, among other things, small island states challenges: Barbados, at 285,000 people (similar in size to Vanuatu) is quite a bit smaller in land and population compared to Jamaica and Trinidad, but bigger than the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) member nations, a string of micro states that run more or less in a line north of Barbados. The experiences and challenges of this cluster of countries is similar to many of the countries of the Pacific with which New Zealand has such close economic, cultural, historical and familial ties: namely lack of scale, isolation, climatic challenges (sea level rise, cyclones). This is an area where I can see increased scope for New Zealand to develop its connections with the Caribbean, both bilaterally and through our respective memberships of the key regional bodies of the region: the Pacific Forum and CARICOM.
Flying into Guyana is a visual treat. Caribbean in history and flavour it is geographically very much part of South America, with land borders to Venezuela, Suriname and Brazil. The approach to the airport takes you in over thick jungle, huge rivers and the delta dominated coastline. This was my second visit and I wanted to get out beyond the capital, Georgetown. I teamed up for a day with Canada’s resident High Commissioner, Francois Montour, and we travelled two hours down the coast to New Amsterdam in order to meet with business leaders and civic officials. In Georgetown itself I had excellent meetings with Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodriguez and Minister for Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai.
Georgetown is where the CARICOM headquarters is based. Similar in structure to the Pacific Forum Secretariat based in Suva, Fiji it services the annual heads of government summit and the decisions and actions that flow from their deliberations. Any visit to Georgetown demands a catch up with the team at CARICOM to get an overview from this key regional body as to how they see the constituent parts of its membership pursuing a shared vision.
As always, both a privilege and fascinating to be a guest in another country. Plenty of follow-up on the ties that we share.