Trinidad and Tobago's Ambassador Tells Qorvis Focus Washington: Diversity, Vision and Strong Energy Sector Make Trinidad a Success

Jul 15, 2013, 11:00 ET from Focus Washington

Caribbean nation enjoys stability, favorable investment climate, highly educated population.

"The U.S. has helped us improve our innovative capacity."

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A strong energy sector and visionary leadership have made Trinidad and Tobago one of the most politically stable and economically successful countries in the Western Hemisphere, Trinidad and Tobago's ambassador to the United States said in an interview on Qorvis Focus Washington.

The ambassador, Dr. Neil Parsan, told interviewer Chuck Conconi, "We have a very diversified economy and we are always looking for ways and means of diversifying. …We are the southernmost island in the chain of Caribbean islands, but we are the northernmost island of South America, so it's a strategic geographic location, physically. We are highly industrialized, a very educated society—well over 40% rate tertiary-level of education. We have macroeconomic stability and political stability."

Growth and Stability Driven by Energy Sector

Trinidad and Tobago has had five general elections in the last 12 years, and not once did the revenue fall. "That speaks volumes of political stability," says Ambassador Parsan. "Our currency has always been floated against the US dollar and has remained stable for many, many years."

Trinidad and Tobago has one of the oldest oil-and-gas sectors in the world, dating back 108 years, and it has been the engine of economic growth and stability in the country.

"I like to say that we are actually more experienced in energy that the United States, Canada, Libya, Iran, Iraq," the ambassador said.

"I'll also tell you, and I'll do so unashamedly, we are the very first country in the world to monetize gas, natural gas. So we have developed a fair amount of skill set in terms of harnessing the potential to bring value of LNG, natural gas, and compressed natural gas to the point that we have been teaching other countries. We have been spending quite a bit of time on the African continent exploring and exploiting other opportunities in some of the African countries as well."

Trinidad and Tobago's unemployment rate is low in relation to the rest of the world, and particularly the Caribbean and Latin America.

Strength in Diversity

And while some nations struggle with racial, ethnic and religious divisions, Trinidad and Tobago has found its diversity to be a distinct advantage, in part because successive governments have managed it well.

"We have been able to harness our diversity as a tool for unifying a multi-plural society," said Ambassador Parsan. "My country is about 32% Indo-Trinidadian, meaning Trinidadians of Indian origin. We have about 35% Afro-Trinidadian, of the African continent, because of slavery. After slavery was abolished, we had a wave of Indian indentured servants and Chinese labor. We also have a fair amount of what you call 'other.' So we have been able to use our diversity positively to unify the society and I think that adds to the level of stability that one can appreciate."

Dr. Parsan is a doctor of veterinary medicine with a degree from the University of the West Indies and had a successful career in business before becoming Trinidad and Tobago's ambassador to the United States. He also is his country's permanent representative before the organization of the American States and its non-resident ambassador to Mexico.

Relations with the U.S.: Trade, Investment and Security

His country has a very "robust agenda" in its relations with the United States centering around trade, investment and security.

"Outside of Canada, the very first country that President Obama visited when he became president was Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas," the ambassador said. "Just a few weeks ago we had Vice President Biden in Trinidad and Tobago, all in an attempt to fortify and strengthen what we hold dear to us, our relationship with energy security, public and citizen security—because as you know, the Caribbean is considered the third border into the United States, so we are constantly looking at ways and means of fortifying those borders."

Trade is also a critical part of the relationship. Trinidad and Tobago benefits from the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), a trade arrangement begun in the Reagan Administration that is "intended to facilitate the economic development and export diversification of the Caribbean Basin economies," according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative. The CBI currently provides beneficiary countries with duty-free access to the U.S. market for most goods.

Trinidad and Tobago recently signed a trade-and-investment framework agreement with the United States as well.

"The U.S. has been helpful to us in terms of helping us improve our innovative capacity. So the relationship remains one of strength, longevity, and continued growth," Ambassador Parsan said.

Steel Drums and Calypso

Trinidad and Tobago's best-known exports are cultural, although many people may not know that they are from Trinidad: steel drums and calypso music.

Oil is measured in barrels and shipped in tankers, but at one time, it was shipped in barrels—steel drums.

"And one guy, one day, took a hammer and began to hit it, and he gave birth to the only acoustical musical instrument of the 20th and 21st centuries, the steel drum," the ambassador said. "We have given the world the steel drums. You'll be happy to know there are several universities in the United States that offer masters and Ph.D. programs on the steel drums.

"And calypso is one form of our art form because we have one of the world's largest Carnivals outside of Rio de Janeiro. And might I add, and please don't hold me accountable, Mardi Gras: Ours is one of the best of the world. And part of the art form that we offer the world is calypso. So when you hear 'Hot Hot Hot' and other art forms, it's from our birthplace, Trinidad and Tobago."

But beyond Trinidad and Tobago's contributions to music and culture, there is a thriving and stable republic that offers great opportunities for investment.

Why? "I would summarize it in three words," says the ambassador. "Small country, big vision, great leadership."

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SOURCE Focus Washington