Trinidad and Tobago flag

Trinidad and Tobago brief

Overview

Trinidad and Tobago comprises two islands in the Lesser Antilles, just off the north-eastern coast of Venezuela. The Islands share maritime borders with Barbados, Guyana and Venezuela.

Australia established a High Commission in Port of Spain in July 2004 after previously being located in Jamaica and then Barbados.  Australia's High Commissioner in Port of Spain has non-resident accreditation for 13 other countries in the region.  There is a small Caribbean community in Australia, including 1,262 individuals born in Trinidad and Tobago (2006 census).

Political overview

Background

Trinidad and Tobago achieved full independence from the United Kingdom in 1962 and subsequently joined the Commonwealth and the United Nations.  In 1967, Trinidad and Tobago became the first Commonwealth country to join the Organization of American States.  In 1976, a republican constitution was adopted, replacing the Queen as Head of State with a president elected by the parliament.

Political system

Trinidad and Tobago is a republic with a bicameral national parliament modelled on the British system.  The President is the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, and is elected by the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives.  The Prime Minister is determined by a general election, which takes place every 5 years.  The Senate consists of 31 members, 22 appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and nine independent senators appointed by the President.

The House of Representatives consists of 41 members sitting in single-member constituencies (39 for Trinidad and 2 for Tobago).  The Speaker can be elected from within or outside the House of Representatives, provided he is a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and is not disqualified for election as a Member of the House of Representatives.  The judiciary is an independent arm of government, mandated by the Constitution to perform oversight over the Executive and to act as a forum for the resolution of legal disputes.  It is headed by the Chief Justice and comprises the Supreme Court and the Magistracy.

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was inaugurated in April 2005 to replace the British Privy Council as the highest court of appeal in the CARICOM region.  The CCJ hears appeals as the court of last resort in both civil and criminal matters from those member states which have ceased to allow appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC).  Trinidad and Tobago is still in a process of transitioning to the CCJ and as of December 2012, legislation had not yet been passed for it to act in its appellate Jurisdiction.  As of 2011, Barbados, Belize, and Guyana are under the jurisdiction of the CCJ.

At the regional level, Tobago has a unicameral House of Assembly comprising 12 elected members, an additional three councillors appointed by the majority party and one by the minority party as well as a Presiding Officer who may or may not be an Assemblyman or a Councillor. Established in 1980, the Tobago House of Assembly has limited regional autonomy including some powers over the island's finances and other delegated policy responsibilities but lacks the ability to collect taxes or impose local laws or zoning regulations.

Since its independence, Trinidad and Tobago has played an increasingly important role as a political and economic leader in the Caribbean.  With a population of approximately 1.3 million people (2011) and significant natural resources, Trinidad and Tobago is one of the larger Caribbean countries and currently benefits from a well-functioning energy sector.  As a consequence of its comparatively larger size and wealth, Trinidad and Tobago also plays a lead role in the region's major political grouping, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).  Trinidad and Tobago is also a member of the Organization of American States, and the Secretariat of the Association of Caribbean States is located in the capital, Port of Spain.

Economic overview

Trinidad and Tobago’s economy is largely based on offshore oil and gas production and the country has become a major financial centre in the Caribbean.  It is the largest supplier of LNG to the United States, and the fifth largest LNG exporter in the world.  Trinidad and Tobago is a leader in the Caribbean regional integration effort, including the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market Economy, which came into effect January 1, 2006.

Domestic

Whilst the economy has overall experienced strong growth since 2000, with per capita GDP rising from US$7,062 (2002) to US$17,060 (2011), it has slowed significantly since 2009.  This is in large part due to the impacts of the Global Financial Crisis and GDP contraction of 3.5 per cent in 2009.  Notwithstanding, this broad growth is largely attributed to significant increases in world energy and commodity prices, which positively impacted Trinidad and Tobago’s export sector.  This has translated into an increase in their real GDP per capita relative to other regional economies, especially compared to other similarly better performing countries in the Caribbean.  Trinidad and Tobago now maintains one of the highest GDP per capita incomes in Latin America and the Caribbean.   As a net oil exporting country, Trinidad and Tobago is also only one of two countries in the region not party to Venezuela’s Petro-Caribe scheme that provides preferential or deferred payment options for purchasing oil.

Consistent with its 'Vision 2020' plan, the Trinidad and Tobago Government has placed a strong emphasis on economic diversification (particularly into technology-based industry), value-adding in the energy sector, and on building tighter linkages between the energy and non-energy economies.  It has also started to encourage oil field development onshore as well.  As a result, Trinidad has one of the most diversified and advanced production structures in the Caribbean – a heavy industrial sector (eg machinery and steel) and a light manufacturing sector (eg food and furniture). The Government is also developing a national energy policy green paper that recognizes renewable energy combined with energy efficiency and the use of compressed natural gas in the transportation sector, as important initiatives for the promotion of sustainable development of the nation.

Regional

As the largest CARICOM economy, Trinidad and Tobago plays a leading role in the Caribbean region and is also a driving force behind regional market integration.  In January 2006, the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME) came into effect.  The CSME allows for the free trade of goods and services between CARICOM countries (except the Bahamas and Haiti, which have not joined the CSME) and the free movement of certain categories of labour. The Caribbean Court of Justice, sitting in its original jurisdiction, acts as a CSME disputes mechanism.  Further information on the CSME can be found on the Caribbean webpage.

Bilateral relationship

The Australia-Trinidad and Tobago bilateral relationship is underpinned by sporting links, joint membership of the Commonwealth and growing commercial ties.  It is also the location of our High Commission to the region.  Australia's then Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, visited Trinidad and Tobago in December 2006 and formally opened the Australian High Commission.

Regionally, the Australian Government has sought to strengthen its ties with the Caribbean, and formally established relations with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) through a Memorandum of Understanding signed by then Prime Minister Rudd, on 29 November 2009. The MOU builds on areas of mutual interest including climate change and disaster risk reduction, economic resilience, and people-to-people and institutional linkages.

Economic and trade relationship

In 2011-12, Trinidad and Tobago remained Australia's largest trading partner in the Caribbean with total two-way merchandise trade at approximately A$24 million in 2012 - with the balance of trade in Australia's favour (A$18m). Australia's exports were primarily meat (not beef) and cheese.  Main imports from Trinidad and Tobago were essential oils and perfumes. In August 2006, the Trinidad and Tobago Government purchased two Australian-made fast passenger ferries worth approximately $90 million. In 2008, the Trinidad and Tobago Government entered into a contract with Australian company Austal to purchase 6 patrol boats for the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, which were delivered in 2009.

Australia and Trinidad and Tobago have a shared interest in ensuring well-functioning energy markets, where both economies have benefited from strong world demand for energy and high energy prices. BHP Billiton is a major oil producer in Trinidad and Tobago and co-operates the Angostura gas project with partners Total and Talisman Energy.  Worley Parsons is also active in the resources and energy sector in Trinidad and Tobago.

Updated January 2013