ISLANDS IN THE SUN

Panama 2014 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to HE Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, on developing trade, travel, and bilateral relations.

HE Kamla Persad-Bissessar
BIOGRAPHY
Kamla Persad-Bissessar studied at the University of the West Indies, Norwood Technical College (England), and the Hugh Wooding Law School. Consequently, she was awarded a BA (Hons.), a Diploma in Education, a BA of Laws (Hons.), and a Legal Education Certificate. In 2006 she obtained an Executive Master's degree in Business Administration (EMBA) from the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business, Trinidad. On completion of her studies, Persad-Bissessar entered the teaching profession. In 1987, she entered the political arena and served as an alderman for St. Patrick County Council. Since 1995 she has been the Member of Parliament for Siparia, serving as Attorney General, Minister of Legal Affairs, and Minister of Education between 1995 and 2001. On May 26, 2010, two days after a victory at the polls, Persad-Bissessar created history becoming the first woman to hold the office of Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Trinidad & Tobago and Panama signed two agreements in 2012 to boost cooperation in the areas of energy and trade. What is your assessment on the relations between both countries?

For us, it is energy, and for Panama, which is developing quickly, energy is vital. Recently, a Trinidadian state-owned company called National Petroleum (NP) signed an agreement with a Panamanian company for the distribution of lubricant products. There is also the Energy Partial Scope Agreement that we had before this came as a result of our first agreement for the NP Energy Corporation. There are several other projects from companies that were in need of LPG, because at the time it was advised that there is a third party that was purchasing the LPG and then selling it, which implied very high costs. We looked for ways in which Panama could buy directly from our national gas company, allowing it to buy directly from our producers instead of from a third party, which would help lower costs We were not able to implement that fully because we had contracts with other buyers, some of which will expire in June 2014.

What are the main areas of importance for Trinidad & Tobago in Panama, and what is your outlook over the medium term for these relations?

For us, the Partial Scope Agreement picked up a lot of agricultural production. Importing food from an area closer to Trinidad and Tobago would be beneficial financially because the costs would be lower for an already elevated food import rate. Another area of keen interest is tourism. We have two kinds of tourism: Trinidad is more business-oriented, while Tobago is still the idyllic island that it was many years ago. Therefore, you can experience the sand, sea, and sun when you come to our nation, while on business. Trinidad is the center for business while Tobago is the place to relax by the sea under the sun. We are also looking for investments in the ICT, maritime, and creative industries sectors, which includes film making, fashion, and music. Our music is some of the most diverse, because our people come from all over the world. It is such a diverse society and music has been influenced by the Spanish, Colombians, Indians, and Africans, with influences from all continents. I think our country has the most public holidays, which is due to the melting pot of religions, creeds and races represented all in one place. Trinidad and Tobago does not have a permanent mission or diplomatic representation in Panama. It is something that we are considering. President Martinelli was vocal in advocating that we establish an office here. Currently, our embassy in Costa Rica is accredited for Panama; however, it is far away. We have an excellent ambassador and she has been promoting Trinidad-Panama trade because of our position in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). I was the Chair of CARICOM until December 2013, and I think that there is tremendous benefit for Panama in liaising with this group of 14 nations, which are still part of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), which includes many Central, Latin, and South American countries. I think Trinidad & Tobago has not had much interaction with Latin and South America. Since Martinelli became President and I took office, I have been working more closely with this part of the world. I do believe in South-South cooperation given the proximity.