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, Grenada, 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.  Australia has a relatively small population of approximately 1,407 migrants (2011 Census) who were born in Trinidad & Tobago.

Political overview

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. Elections are due to be held next in 2015.

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 representing single-member constituencies (39 for Trinidad and 2 for Tobago).  The Speaker can be elected from within or outside the House of Representatives, provided the candidate is a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and 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 in a process of transitioning to the CCJ.  Caribbean countries under the jurisdiction of the CCJ include Barbados, Belize and Guyana.

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 (2013) and significant natural resources, Trinidad and Tobago is one of the larger Caribbean countries and currently benefits from a prosperous energy sector.  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 (OAS), and the Secretariat of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) is located in the capital, Port of Spain.

Bilateral relations

The Australia-Trinidad and Tobago bilateral relationship is underpinned by sporting links, joint membership of the Commonwealth and the United Nations and growing commercial ties.

Regionally, the Australian Government has sought to strengthen its ties with the Caribbean, and formally established relations with the Caribbean Community through a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2009.  The MOU focused on areas of mutual interest including the promotion of foreign and economic policies, disaster risk reduction, economic resilience, and people-to-people and institutional linkages.

From 2010 to 2014 Australia provided over $60 million in official development assistance to the Caribbean region, including 128 Australia Awards scholarships.  Trinidad and Tobago benefited directly from the program until December 2011, receiving four Australia Awards scholarships and two fellowships, and participating in diplomatic training and sports training programs.  It also benefitted from regional activities on climate change and disaster risk reduction, economic resilience and arms trade treaty negotiations.  The regional program has now concluded but some activities that have already been funded will continue until 2018.

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.  In 2013, Trinidad and Tobago was the world’s sixth largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the largest LNG exporter to the United States, accounting for nearly 74% of US LNG imports. 

Domestic

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.  The economy has overall experienced strong growth since 2002; with per capita GDP rising from US$7,061 (2002) to US$20,611 (2013).  This broad growth is largely attributed to significant increases in world energy and commodity prices, which positively impacted the country’s export sector.

As a net oil exporting country, Trinidad and Tobago’s is 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.  Trinidad and Tobago maintains one of the highest GDP per capita incomes in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Trinidad and Tobago Government has placed a strong emphasis on economic diversification (particularly into technologies-based industry), value–adding in the energy sector, and on building tighter linkages between the energy and non-energy economies.  As a result Trinidad has one of the most diversified and advanced production structures in the Caribbean – a heavy industrial sector (e.g. machinery and steel) and a light manufacturing sector (e.g. food and furniture).  The Government has been refining national energy policy to support sustainable national development including, for example, considering potential for use of renewable energy combined with energy efficiency and the use of compressed natural gas in the transportation sector.  In 2013, the government established a partnership with the United States of America to protect Trinidad and Tobago’s energy sector and its infrastructure under the Energy Sector Security Initiative.  The adoption in 2014 of the National Climate Change Policy aims to support mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

Regional

As the largest CARICOM economy, Trinidad and Tobago plays a leading role in the Caribbean region and has been 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.

Trade and Investment

In 2013, Trinidad and Tobago remained Australia's largest trading partner in the Caribbean with total two-way merchandise trade at approximately A$20 million in 2013.  Australia's exports were primarily meat and cheese.  Main imports from Trinidad and Tobago were alcoholic beverages and essential oils and perfumes.  In August 2006, the Trinidad and Tobago Government purchased two Australian-made fast passenger ferries worth approximately $90 million.  In 2009, the Trinidad and Tobago Government purchased six patrol boats from an Australian company Austal for the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard.

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 FinELf (30% - French) and Talisman Energy (25% - Canadian).  In 2014, BHP Billiton (45%) announced it will invest US$1 billion to further exploration.  Worley Parsons is also active in the resources and energy sector in Trinidad and Tobago.

High Level Visits

December 2006 - Australia's then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer visited Trinidad and Tobago and formally opened the Australian High Commission.

2009 – Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and former Foreign Minister Stephen Smith visited Trinidad and Tobago for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

October 2011 – Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar visited Australia for the CHOGM.

April 2014 – House of Representatives Speaker Bronwyn Bishop visited Trinidad and Tobago.