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Diplomacy in Action

Trinidad and Tobago (05/07)


For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.

Flag of Trinidad and Tobago is red with a white-edged black diagonal band from the upper hoist side to the lower fly side.


Republic of Trinidad and Tobago

Area: 5,128 sq. km. (1,980 sq. mi.), about the size of Delaware. Trinidad--4,828 sq. km. (1,864 sq. mi). Tobago--300 sq. km. (116 sq. mi).
Cities: Capital--Port of Spain (metropolitan pop. 310,000). Other cities--San Fernando, Chaguanas, Arima, Scarborough. (Tobago)
Terrain: Plains and low mountains.
Climate: Tropical; principal rainy season is June through December.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Trinidadian(s) and Tobagonian(s). (NOTE: A popular combination name for Trinidadians and Tobagonians is Trinbagonians)
Population (2006 est): 1,297,944
Annual growth rate: 0.3%.
Ethnic groups (2000): East Indian 40.0%, African 37.5%, mixed 20.5%, European 0.6%, Chinese 0.3%, other/not stated 1.1%.
Religions (2000): Roman Catholic 26.0%, Hindu 22.5%, Anglican 7.8%, Pentecostal 6.8%, Baptist 7.2%, other Christian 5.8%, Muslim 5.8%, Seventh Day Adventist 4%, other 10.8%, unspecified 1.4%, none 1.9%.
Language: English.
Education: Years compulsory--8. Literacy--98.6%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2005 est.)- 25.81/1,000. Life expectancy (2006 est.)--66 yrs. male; 68 yrs. female.
Work force (628,400 in 2006): Trade and services 41.7%, construction 17.9%, government 22.9%, manufacturing 8.6%, agriculture/sugar 4.2%, oil/gas 3.2%, utilities 1.5%.

Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Independence: August 31, 1962.
Present constitution: September 24, 1976.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--bicameral parliament. Judicial--independent court system; highest court of appeal is Privy Council (London).
Subdivisions: Nine regional corporations, two city corporations, three borough corporations, one ward (Trinidad); Tobago House of Assembly.
Political parties: People's National Movement (PNM); United National Congress (UNC); Congress of the People (COP); other minor parties, including the much-diminished National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

Economy (2006 est)
GDP: U.S. $18.14 billion (market prices).
Annual growth rate: 8% (2005), 12% (2006 preliminary).
Per capita income: U.S. $13,978.
Natural resources: Oil and natural gas, timber, fish.
Petroleum (crude oil, natural gas, petrochemicals): 20.6% of GDP.
Financial services: 7.5% of GDP.
Distribution including restaurants: 3.2% of GDP.
Manufacturing (food and beverages, assembly, chemicals, printing): 11.8% of GDP.
Construction and Quarrying: 14.5% of GDP.
Transport/storage/communication: 4.0% of GDP.
Government: 1.5% of GDP.
Education, cultural community services: 9.4% of GDP.
Electricity and water: 2.2% of GDP.
Agriculture (sugar, poultry, other meat, vegetables, citrus): 0.6% of GDP.
Hotels and guesthouses: 1.7% of GDP.

Columbus landed on and named Trinidad in 1498, and Spaniards settled the island a century later. Spanish colonizers largely wiped out the original inhabitants--Arawak and Carib Indians--and the survivors were gradually assimilated. Although it attracted French, free black, and other non-Spanish settlers, Trinidad remained under Spanish rule until the British captured it in 1797. During the colonial period, Trinidad's economy relied on large sugar and cocoa plantations. Tobago's development was similar to other plantation islands in the Lesser Antilles and quite different from Trinidad. During the colonial period, French, Dutch, and British forces fought over possession of Tobago, and the island changed hands 22 times--more often than any other West Indies island. Britain took final possession of Tobago in 1803. The two islands of Trinidad and Tobago were incorporated into a single colony in 1888. Trinidad and Tobago achieved full independence in 1962 and joined the British Commonwealth. Trinidad and Tobago became a republic in 1976.

The people of Trinidad and Tobago are mainly of African or East Indian descent. Virtually all speak English. Small percentages also speak Hindi, French patois, and several other dialects. Trinidad has two major folk traditions: Creole and East Indian. Creole is a mixture of African elements with Spanish, French, and English colonial culture. Trinidad's East Indian culture came to the island beginning May 30, 1845 with the arrival of indentured servants brought to fill a labor shortage created by the emancipation of the African slaves in 1838. Most remained on the land, and they still dominate the agricultural sector, but many have become prominent in business and the professions. East Indians have retained much of their own way of life, including Hindu and Muslim religious festivals and practices.

Trinidad and Tobago is a unitary state, with a parliamentary democracy modeled after that of Great Britain. Although completely independent, Trinidad and Tobago acknowledged the British monarch as the figurehead chief of state from 1962 until 1976. In 1976 the country adopted a republican Constitution, replacing Queen Elizabeth with a president elected by Parliament. The general direction and control of the government rests with the cabinet, led by a prime minister and answerable to the bicameral Parliament.

The 36 members of the House of Representatives are elected to terms of at least 5 years. Elections may be called earlier by the president at the request of the prime minister or after a vote of no confidence in the House of Representatives. At the next general election, due to take place by the end of 2007, the number of seats contested in the House of Representatives will increase from 36 to 41. The Senate's 31 members are appointed by the president: sixteen on the advice of the prime minister, six on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and nine independents selected by the president from among outstanding members of the community. Elected councils administer the nine regional, two city, and three borough corporations on Trinidad. Since 1980 the Tobago House of Assembly has governed Tobago with limited responsibility for local matters.

The country's highest court is the Court of Appeal, whose chief justice is appointed by the president after consultation with the prime minister and leader of the opposition. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London decides final appeal on some matters. Member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) selected Trinidad as the headquarters site for the new Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which is intended eventually to replace the Privy Council for all CARICOM states. The CCJ heard its first case in August 2005. Despite having its seat in Port of Spain, the CCJ has not yet supplanted the Privy Council for Trinidad and Tobago due to a legislative dispute over constitutional reform.

Principal Government Officials
President--George Maxwell Richards
Prime Minister--Patrick Manning
Attorney General--John Jeremie
Chief Justice--Satnarine Sharma

Selected Short List of Key Ministers
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Arnold Piggott
Minister of Energy and Energy Industries and Public Administration--Lenny Saith
Minister of Finance--Patrick Manning
Minister of National Security--Martin Joseph
Minister of Tourism--Howard Chin Lee
Minister of Trade and Industry--Kenneth Valley
Ambassador to the U.S. and to the OAS--Marina Valere
Ambassador to the UN--Phillip Sealey

The embassy of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is located at 1708 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202-467-6490; fax. 202-785-3130).

The first political party in Trinidad and Tobago with a continuing organization and program--the People's National Movement (PNM)--emerged in 1956 under Dr. Eric Williams, who became Prime Minister upon independence and remained in that position until his death in 1981. Politics have generally run along ethnic lines, with Afro-Trinidadians supporting the PNM and Indo-Trinidadians supporting various Indian-majority parties, such as the United National Congress (UNC). Most political parties, however, have sought to broaden their appeal. Most notably, the Congress of the People, established in September 2006 by Winston Dookeran, then Political Leader of the UNC, and other defectors from that party, announced as its principal goal the creation of a non-race-based party which will embrace citizens of all colors, ethnic groups and creeds.

The PNM remained in power following the death of Dr. Williams, but its 30-year rule ended in 1986 when the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), a rainbow party aimed at Trinidadians of both African and Indian descent, won a landslide victory by capturing 33 of 36 seats. Tobago's A.N.R. Robinson, the NAR political leader, became Prime Minister. The NAR began to break down when the Indian component withdrew in 1988. Basdeo Panday, leader of the old United Labor Front (ULF), formed the new opposition with the UNC.

In July 1990, the Jamaat al Muslimeen, an extremist Black Muslim group with an unresolved grievance against the government over land claims, tried to overthrow the NAR government. The group held the prime minister and members of parliament hostage for 5 days while rioting and looting shook Port of Spain. After a long standoff with the police and military, Jamaat leader Yasin Abu Bakr and his followers surrendered to Trinidad and Tobago authorities. In 1992 the Court of Appeal upheld the validity of a government amnesty given to the Jamaat members during the hostage crisis. Abu Bakr and 113 other Jamaat members were jailed for two years while other courts debated the amnesty's validity. All 114 members were eventually released after a ruling by the U.K. Privy Council.

In 1991 elections, the NAR lost control of the government to the PNM, led by Patrick Manning who became prime minister. The Panday-led UNC finished second and replaced the NAR as chief opposition party. In 1995 Manning called for elections, in which the PNM and UNC both won 17 seats and the NAR won two seats. The UNC allied with the NAR and formed the new government, with Panday becoming prime minister--the first prime minister of East Indian descent. Although elections held in 2000 returned the UNC to power, the UNC government fell in 2001 with the defection of three of its parliamentarians, and the subsequent elections resulted in an even 18-18 split between the UNC and the PNM. President A.N.R. Robinson ironically bypassed his former party colleague Panday by inviting PNM leader Manning to form a government, but the inability to break the tie delayed Parliament from meeting. Manning called elections in 2002, following which the PNM formed the next government with a 20-16 majority. The next elections must be held by the end of 2007, and both the PNM and the UNC, as well as the COP have been preparing for those polls. Manning shows every indication of intending to continue in office. Panday was forced to step down as leader of the opposition in 2006 after his conviction for failing to file a complete declaration of assets to the Integrity Committee. However, in 2007 his conviction was quashed, and despite the fact that a retrial was ordered, he returned to lead the UNC into the next election.

All three major parties are committed to free market economic policies and increased foreign investment. Trinidad and Tobago has remained cooperative with the United States in the regional fight against narcotics trafficking and on other issues.

The twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago continues to experience real GDP growth as a result of economic reforms, tight monetary policy, fiscal responsibility, and high oil prices. In 2006 the country experienced a real GDP growth rate of 12%, which followed 8% growth in 2005. The PNM-led government continues its sound macroeconomic policies. Long-term growth looks promising, as Trinidad and Tobago further develops its oil and gas resources and the industries dependent on natural gas, including petrochemicals, fertilizers, iron/steel and aluminum. Additional growth potential also exists in financial services, telecommunications and transport. Strong growth in Trinidad and Tobago over the past few years has led to trade surpluses, even with high import levels due to industrial expansion and increased consumer demand. The debt service ratio, was a moderate 4.7% in 2004, and fell to 2.5% in 2005. In 2006, unemployment fell to 5% down from 6.7% in 2005. Headline inflation peaked at 10% (year-on-yar) in October 2006, then moderating to 8.0% as of March 2007. Food price inflation slowed to 18.8% (year-on-year) in March 2007, down from 22% in October 2006. During 2006, the Central Bank has raised interest rates eight times for the year. However, since September 2006, the Bank has maintained the rate at 8.0%. There are no currency or capital controls and the central bank maintains the TT dollar in a lightly managed, stable float against the U.S. dollar. The exchange rate as of May 10, 2007, was TT $6.31 to U.S. $1.

Trinidad and Tobago has made a transition from an oil-based economy to one based on natural gas. In 2006, natural gas production averaged 4 million standard cubit feet per day (mmscf/d), compared with 3.2 mmscf/d in 2005. The petrochemical sector, including plants producing methanol, ammonia, urea, and natural gas liquids, has continued to grow in line with natural gas production, which continues to expand and should meet the needs of new industrial plants coming on stream in the next few years, including iron, aluminum, and ethylene. In December 2005, the Atlantic LNG fourth production module or "train" for liquefied natural gas (LNG) began production. Train 4 has increased Atlantic LNG's overall output capacity by almost 50% and is among the largest LNG trains in the world at 5.2 million tons/year of LNG. Trinidad and Tobago is the fifth-largest exporter of LNG in the world and the single largest supplier of LNG to the U.S., supplying 70% of all LNG imported into the U.S. The energy sector experienced strong growth in 2006, estimated at 20.6%, and accounted for 41.5% of GDP at that year's end.

Growth across the non-energy sector in 2006 slowed to 6.5%, down from 8.7% in 2005. Manufacturing was the most dynamic, with 11.8% growth in 2006, led for the third consecutive year by food, beverages and tobacco (19%), and assembly-type industries (11.1%). The services sector grew by 5.9%, led by construction sector growth resulting from Trinidad and Tobago Government investment in housing and infrastructure, and ongoing projects in the energy sector. Performance in the agriculture sector has been erratic and weak, with a 0.6% decline in output resulting largely from the shrinking and restructuring of the sugar industry. The government is seeking to diversify the economy to reduce dependence on the energy sector and to achieve self-sustaining growth. The diversification strategy focuses on seven key industries: yachting; fish and fish processing; merchant marine; music and entertainment; film; food and beverage; and printing and packaging. A National Research and Development Fund will be established to stimulate innovation and investment in a technology park, to be constructed.

Trinidad and Tobago has an open investment climate. Since 1992, almost all investment barriers have been eliminated. The government continues to welcome foreign investors. The government has a double taxation agreement, a bilateral investment treaty and an intellectual property rights agreement with the United States. The stock of U.S. direct investment in Trinidad and Tobago was $1.98 billion as of 2005. Total foreign direct investment inflows average $700 million annually over the last decade. Among recent and ongoing investment projects are several involving U.S. firms: ISG Trinidad started operations in November 2004 in a plant that has the capacity to produce 500,000 metric tons annually of hot briquetted iron. In December 2006 Nucor began producing direct reduced iron for shipment to the U.S. at its plant in Trinidad, which has a production capacity of 2.0 million tons per year. Two aluminum smelter plants are also planned, one of them to be owned by Alcoa. The first major business-class hotel to be opened in several years bears the Marriott Courtyard brand. A Hyatt-managed hotel is scheduled to open in late 2007, part of a multimillion-dollar port development project in Port of Spain.

Trinidad and Tobago's infrastructure is adequate by regional standards. Expansion of the Crown Point airport on Tobago is being planned, which follows opening of the Piarco terminal on Trinidad in 2000. There is an extensive network of paved roads. Traffic is a worsening problem throughout Trinidad, as the road network is not well suited to the volume of vehicles and only a rudimentary mass transport system exists as an alternative. Utilities are fairly reliable in cities, but some rural areas suffer from power failures, water shortages in the dry season, and flooding in the rainy season due to inadequate drainage. Infrastructure improvement is one of the government's budget priorities, especially rehabilitating rural roads and bridges, rural electrification, flood control, and improved drainage and sewerage. The government is evaluating bids to construct a light rail system and is expected to award a contract for the design and planning phase of the project in mid-2007.

Telephone service is modern and fairly reliable, although significantly more costly to consumers than comparable U.S. service, including for wireline, wireless, and broadband services. Change began in the wireless market when the new Telecommunications Authority invited two firms to offer competition to state-owned monopoly incumbent TSTT (co-owned by Cable & Wireless). Two wireless providers, Bmobile and Digicel are already operational, while a third licensee, Laqtel, had not launched service as of May 2007. Long distance, cable, and Internet services have not yet been deregulated, but the government has indicated that it will do so in those markets as well, beginning with cable TV. Internet has come into widespread use, with broadband access available in upscale business and residential areas, along with a number of wireless "hot spots." Improvements in service and price are likely as TSTT prepares itself to meet competition for Internet services in coming years.

As the most industrialized and second-largest country in the English-speaking Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago has taken a leading role in the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), and strongly supports CARICOM economic integration efforts and has advocated for a greater measure of political security and integration. CARICOM members are working to establish a Single Market and Economy (CSME). In early 2006, Trinidad and Tobago, in conjunction with the larger CARICOM nations, inaugurated the CARICOM Single Market, a precursor to the full CSME. As a first step toward greater security integration, Trinidad and Tobago and the other members of CARICOM collaborated with the US on an Advance Passenger Information System in preparation for the 2007 Cricket World Cup tournament, which took place in nine Caribbean venues in March and April of 2007.

Trinidad and Tobago is active in the Summit of the Americas (SOA) process of the Organization of American States (OAS). It recently hosted hemisphere-wide ministerial meetings on energy (2004) and education (2005), as well as an OAS meeting on terrorism and security (also 2005). It also hosted a negotiating session in 2003 for the OAS Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and aspires to hosting an eventual FTAA secretariat. It will host the SOA summit in 2009.

Trinidad and Tobago is a democracy that maintains close relations with its Caribbean neighbors and major North American and European trading partners. After its 1962 independence, Trinidad and Tobago joined the UN and the Commonwealth. In 1967, it became the first Commonwealth country to join the OAS. In 1995, Trinidad played host to the inaugural meeting of the Association of Caribbean States and has become the headquarters location for this 25-member grouping, which seeks to further economic progress and cooperation among its members.

The United States and Trinidad and Tobago enjoy cordial relations. U.S. interests here and throughout the hemisphere focus on increasing investment and trade, and securing more stable supplies of energy. They also include enhancing Trinidad and Tobago's political and social stability and positive regional role through assistance in drug interdiction, health issues, and legal affairs. The U.S. embassy was established in Port of Spain in 1962, replacing the former consulate general.

International Military Education and Training (IMET) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programs were suspended in 2003 under the terms of the American Service Members Protection Act (ASPA), because Trinidad and Tobago, a member of the International Criminal Court, had not concluded a bilateral non-surrender or "Article 98" agreement with the United States. However, when the Congress de-linked IMET funding from the Article 98 sanctions, a nominal allocation of $45,000 in IMET was reinstated for late 2007. Currently, the main source of financial assistance provided to the defense force is through State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement funds, Traditional Commander's Activities funds, the State Partnership Program (with Delaware), and IMET. Assistance to Trinidad and Tobago from U.S. military, law enforcement authorities, and in the area of health issues remains important to the bilateral relationship and to accomplishing U.S. policy objectives.

The U.S. Government also provides technical assistance to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago through a number of existing agreements. The Department of Homeland Security has a Customs Advisory Team working with the Ministry of Finance to update its procedures. Similarly, the Treasury Department has an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) advising team that works with the Board of Inland Revenue modernizing its tax administration. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, has a regional office here that collaborates with the Caribbean Epidemiology Center (CAREC) and other regional partners to provide technical assistance and financial support for HIV/AIDS-related epidemiology surveillance and public health training in the region.

U.S. commercial ties with Trinidad and Tobago have always been strong and have grown substantially in the last several years due to economic liberalization. U.S. firms have invested more than a billion dollars in recent years--mostly in the petrochemical, oil/gas, and iron/steel sectors. Many of America's largest corporations have commercial links with Trinidad and Tobago, and more than 30 U.S. firms have offices and operations in the country. Trinidad and Tobago is a beneficiary of the U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). The U.S. embassy actively fosters bilateral business ties and provides a number of commercial services to potential investors and traders. A double-taxation agreement has existed since the early 1970s. A tax information exchange agreement was signed in 1989, and a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) and an Intellectual Property Rights agreement were signed in 1994. The BIT entered into force in 1996. Other agreements include Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance treaties, which have been in force since 1999. An agreement on Maritime Cooperation was signed in 1996.

There are large numbers of U.S. citizens and permanent residents of Trinidadian origin living in the United States (mostly in New York and Florida), which keeps cultural ties strong. About 20,000 U.S. citizens visit Trinidad and Tobago on vacation or for business every year, and more than 4,600 American citizens are residents.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Roy L. Austin
Deputy Chief of Mission--Eugene P. Sweeney
Economic/Commercial Chief--John Ries
Political/INL Chief--Avraham Rabby
Consular Chief--Armando Armendariz
Management Officer--Terrence R. Flynn
Regional Security Officer--Mark Lewis
Public Affairs Officer--Michelle L. Jones

The U.S. Embassy is located at 15 Queen's Park West, Port of Spain (tel. 868 622-6371, fax: 868 822-5905).

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE

American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago
62 Maraval Road, Woodbrook
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Tel: (868) 622-4466, 622-0340 and 628-2508
Fax: (868) 628-9428

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