Mar. 8, 2015


Winston Dookeran

Ecuador

Winston Dookeran

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago

"We are very mindful of Ecuador’s leading role in UNASUR."

BIO

Winston Dookeran is a politician and economist. He is the current Minister of Foreign Affairs for Trinidad and Tobago. Previous positions have included Governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago from 1997 until 2002. He is also a scholar of economics, beginning his career at the University of the West Indies, teaching economics for 15 years. He also became a Visiting Scholar at the Centre for International Affairs at Harvard University and developed ties to universities in the UK and Canada.

How do you assess Trinidad and Tobago's role in global democracy and what steps are being taken to move forward in the international scene?

Trinidad and Tobago is at a pivotal point, both globally and hemispherically. Our visitors like the Vice President of the US, the President of the People's Republic of China and Japan's Prime Minister are evidence of this. In terms of global diplomacy, we have always operated according to certain fundamental principles, and been anchored in human rights, peace, security, and democracy. We have attempted to mediate in global affairs wherever we are present and, in that sense, have earned the respect of the global community as a country that takes its position on the basis of fundamental principles that are rooted in international relations. We are also proactive in global issues such as the Arms Trade Treaty. Not only did Trinidad and Tobago participate with other countries like the UK and Australia to make sure that the Treaty was actualized at the UN, but it also offered to host the Secretariat. That decision will be made later this year. We have also been able to secure support from several major groupings including the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States (GRULAC). On the subject of climate change, we have also played a key role. We co-chaired the climate change negotiation with Germany up to December 2014 and are preparing for the upcoming meeting in Paris, which will focus on the agreement. In global diplomacy, we have been very proactive on critical issues, as well as being contemplative on issues of conflict.

How do you assess the air traffic links between Trinidad and Tobago and Latin America?

I travelled to the Dominican Republic and met with the Foreign Minister to discuss connectivity and how we can partner with Avianca and Caribbean Airlines. Those talks have to be followed up with technical discussions for prospects and possibilities. There was a definite interest expressed by Avianca to consider this option for more direct flights to Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. Meanwhile, the aviation agreement we are working on is being finalized. And with respect to Colombia, we are working on air connections, and hopefully Caribbean Airlines and Avianca will meet soon to explore commercial viability and logistics. Secondly, the air services agreement should be finalized shortly. That is a specific move with respect to Colombia, but there has been a general feeling that we need to open up more links with Latin America in terms of air transport. Air transport follows trade and the movement of people. It is expected that as trade and travel increase, so too, will air transport financing is expected improve. The Latin American countries have brought this issue to the agenda, and now the commercial and logistics are being worked on. I anticipate that over the next decade this will become a possibility. There was a time when Trinidad was a fueling stop for flights coming from Latin America to North America, but the situation has changed and this historical pattern needs to be revived.

“We are very mindful of Ecuador's leading role in UNASUR."

Trinidad and Tobago and Ecuador have long enjoyed positive diplomatic relations. What issues have been strengthened over the past few years between both nations?

We are very mindful of Ecuador's leading role in UNASUR and the way they have been able to provide leadership in UNASUR. We are not a member, but are constantly apprised of that role. Our relationship to UNASUR and Ecuador is really co-terminus. They are involved in other bodies, but we see them as critical in this respect. They are also an oil producing country and a commercial relationship exists as well as technical exchanges. This is a natural area of cooperation. We have also been trying to mediate with Latin American countries on issues of the OAS, of which Ecuador

has a definite position. We see no conflict in OAS playing a role in the wider hemisphere. On the diplomatic front, we have been working very closely with Ecuador, especially on issues relating to OAS and CELAC.

Trinidad and Tobago is a major exporter of gas and hydrocarbons and has great experience in refinery. In what ways are Trinidad, Tobago, and Ecuador cooperating in the energy sector?

The global economy is rapidly changing and there are oil cycles with respect to prices. The idea of jointly pursuing exploration opportunities is something that could be placed on the agenda as we both have expertise in this regard, and in that sense, our firms are also interested in partnering Latin America in this area. The question is whether or not firms can work together in a complimentary fashion.

What is your outlook for the Trinidad and Tobago economy for 2015 and beyond?

Three areas of diversification have been successful in Trinidad, one of which concerns energy itself. We have been able to shift from a monoculture petroleum production economy to one that produces gas, petroleum, petrochemicals, and a number of byproducts. But the energy sector just is one source of diversification. We have also been able to extend the scope of our financial sector, which is now highly diversified and robust, operating in the entire region. The services sector is the third area undergoing diversification. While nascent, it is where we intend to focus in terms of diversification, which includes tourism, financial and IT services—success there has still to be seen. We now have a strong commercial relationship with Panama, which is creating many opportunities, and we will be opening an embassy there this year as we seek to diversify and expand our reach. Trinidad and Tobago's economy is quite solid and stable. The price of oil is always an issue and we are now facing management and risk associated with that. Hopefully, it won't be a protracted cycle. Apart from that, ours is also an economy of potential in the onshore sector, which has performed solidly in terms of its macroeconomic contribution. For some time now, we have been able to maintain relatively low inflation and unemployment rates and a high capital formation with good export potential. Although we still need to do much more beyond the energy sector, I would say the economy has been robust, having withstood the turbulence of 2008. We faced our own local crisis when one of our major insurance companies collapsed creating huge liability, but have since been able to resolve this issue. Trinidad and Tobago has persistently pursued solid macroeconomic policies and in so doing has maintained its high credit rating. But, we do face the same challenges that most countries face when the global economy begins to shake. Trinidad and Tobago cannot be defined by its geographic location, but its economic, diplomatic, and political space. In that sense, it is not a small country. It is a country that is actively engaged in all the affairs around it. We have had candidates in major international bodies. We have had many judges in the International Tribunal Court from Trinidad and Tobago. We have found that the presence of Trinidad and Tobago in international institutions has been acknowledged by the success of our participants.

© The Business Year - March 2015

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