By Hon. Sen. Don Meredith
As the people of the twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago reach a historic milestone, it is both a time to celebrate the successes of the past and the opportunities that lie ahead.
It was in 1962 that the country affectionately known as T&T and my home island of Jamaica were the first British islands in the Caribbean to become independent nations.
During that year of independence, both of these nations established diplomatic relations with Canada. Since then, Trinidad and Tobago went one step further and became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. This testifies to the leadership role the country plays in the region until this very day.
Over the past 50 years, Canada has been a major partner of Caribbean nations, especially in capacity-building and trade. In fact, in recent years bilateral merchandise trade between Canada and Trinidad & Tobago has grown to over $615 million.
Trinidad and Tobago’s imports of Canadian goods, which include mineral ores, paper products, machinery and electrical equipment, and vegetables, have reached $273.6 million.
Meanwhile, Canadian imports from Trinidad and Tobago, which include organic chemicals, iron and steel and inorganic chemicals have reached $341.5 million.
In my capacity as Senator, I am helping to strengthen the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Caribbean Community, which will go a long way in creating jobs and increasing investment between Canada and Caribbean nations like Trinidad & Tobago.
Canada continues to invest in the Trinidadian economy, especially in the energy and financial sectors, which are set to grow and continue to strengthen the Caribbean economy.
Canada is able to maintain a strong, multi-faceted relationship with T and T by partnering on issues of mutual need, especially the energy sector.
By developing a relationship that relies on diverse imports and exports, Canada is able to support its own economy while helping Trinidad and Tobago to continue the great industrialization and development that has made them one of the shining lights of the Caribbean.
In terms of security, Canada has formed a strong partnership with Trinidad and Tobago by helping to train the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, one of the largest forces in the Caribbean.
T&T has been a proud member of Canada’s Military Training and Assistance program since the mid-1970s, which has resulted in over 60 Canadian officers going to Trinidad and Tobago to help their military develop Disaster Management and basic security strategies.
These security arrangements will continue to be strengthened in the future.
Beyond trade, capacity building, and language, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago are linked at the most fundamental level. We are both parliamentary democracies with a bicameral Parliament consisting of an elected House and an appointed Senate, based on the Westminster parliamentary system.
Over time, Canada and Trinidad & Tobago have evolved from dependent colonies within the British Empire to independent countries within the Commonwealth of Nations, to interdependent partners on the world stage.
In celebration of this relationship, His Excellency the Right Hon. David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, and Canadian officials, made a recent state visit to Trinidad and Tobago, where they made security co-operation announcements.
His Excellency also witnessed the signing of a Technical Framework Arrangement that will allow qualified Canadian companies to access commercial opportunities in the Trinidadian health sector.
In a speech before the bright minds and faculty of the University of the West Indies, the Governor General stated:
“Trinidad and Tobago is in an enviable position to become a central player in the global economy because of its size, location and commitment to fostering learning and innovation … Trinidad and Tobago understands this and has worked hard, using innovative ideas and programs, to overcome obstacles to access to education. ‘Education for all’ is a mantra that I have heard here…This is why I hope to encourage further ties between our two countries, ties that can begin right here.”
Despite the warm friendship that our countries share at the highest level, the greatest tie that binds us together is the over 65,000 Trinidadians and Tobagonians that now call Canada home and make contributions to our country.
May the next 50 years be marked with great friendship, prosperity and blessings for both of our countries.
Hon. Dr Don Meredith is the Member of the Canadian Senate for Ontario.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.