|PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar at the Americas-Africa Business Forum|
The Forum was jointly hosted by the Organization of American States and the Government of Trinidad & Tobago..
“This forum has the potential to produce tangible results, as we strive together to improve the quality of life for all our citizens. Indeed this gathering realizes the value of collaboration and seeking out new partnerships in the face of challenging times around the world. It is for this reason that one of the pillars of my Government’s foreign policy agenda is the fostering of South-South cooperation,” The Prime Minister stated..
“Indeed, this forum is founded on the value of cooperation and the belief that by working together we can strengthen our economies, generate employment, increase productivity and in so doing provide more opportunities for traditionally under-represented groups like women and youth,” she added.
She noted although both regions are geographically far apart history and culture bind them together.
Speaking about the connection to Trinidad and Tobago, she said a significant part of the country’s identity is tied to Africa. “It is reflected in the ethnic fusion of our people, our music, our food and even our greatest celebration Carnival. Africa is alive in the Caribbean and it is the same for many parts of the Americas.”
She used statistics to show that Africa is changing for the better despite old perceptions and images. “According to the World Bank latest Africa Pulse, economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to reach more than 5 per cent on average in 2013-2015 ensuring that the region remains amongst the fastest growing in the world. Africa now boasts of the some of the fastest growing economies in the world, where additional natural resources have also been found.
I”ndeed some of the most significant discoveries of natural gas in recent times have been made in Tanzania and Mozambique. These discoveries, if properly utilized, have the potential to socially and politically transform East Africa and surrounding countries.”
She said despite this growing prosperity in Africa and other parts of the developing world 1.5 billion people - a quarter of humanity – have no access to electricity, with the greatest concentration in Africa and southern Asia. She noted that the lack of this basic utility is a hindrance to manufacturing, the services sector, health care delivery and most importantly education.
Persad-Bissessar said Trinidad and Tobago is willing to use its natural gas to help develop the people of Africa and raise their standard of living, noting that since 2007, twenty-four delegations from Africa have visited Trinidad and Tobago ”seeking to forge partnerships with our country in energy related matters and to better understand how we have developed what we call “the Trinidad and Tobago model of natural gas based development”. “
Africa is ready to become a world player, she said. “Just a few weeks ago I understand the African Union held a meeting where the general consensus was that Africa has the potential not only to feed itself, but the rest of world. Reports out of Africa suggest that 9 out of 19 countries in Africa are likely to cut poverty in half by 2015.”
Turning to the Americas, Persad-Bissessar said the region has weathered the storms and this year the Inter American Development Bank is projecting economic growth of 3.6% for Latin America and the Caribbean. There are also indications that the middle class is gradually beginning to grow, and we are finally beginning to make a dent in the poverty levels.
“Yet, there are serious challenges ahead and sharp checks to these gains: we still have some the most glaring examples of income inequality in the world; the gap between rich and poor is still too wide; education is still not guaranteed in all of our states; food import bills are too large; and too many women and children are still vulnerable,” she said.
“If we hope to keep our countries on sound footing, we must be pro-active and inspire our people to pursue a critical shift in thinking; one which understands the reality and uncertainty around us, assesses options and makes the most of the opportunities that can be found by traveling along unbeaten paths.”
She explained how Trinidad and Tobago adjusted its policies to deal with global challenges.
“We were compelled to change our export lines. When one market started to dwindle, we had no choice but to quickly adjust, adapt and find new partners. We successfully strengthened our partnerships with countries in Latin America, Asia, Europe and others.
“Today, 81 per cent of Trinidad and Tobago’s LNG exports head to markets which are different to what obtained a few years ago. Indeed, 35 per cent of our LNG exports in 2012 headed to South America, specifically Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Trinidad and Tobago also exports LNG to the Dominican Republic. From our LNG facilities in Point Fortin we exported LNG to 19 countries around the world in 2012.”
Persad Bissesar also spoke about the need for focusing creating conditions that are right for the 300 million youth graduating from schools and other institutions of learning over the next decade.
“We must ensure that our education systems are engineered to equip them with the skills they will need, to accommodate the advances in technology and changing demands for goods and services. We cannot rely on the advances of others to sustain us,” Persad Bissessar said.
The Americas and Africa have a proud heritage in defying the odds, she said, and noted that the world is today a village that is growing smaller every day. She said states in both regions must safeguard the future future by working now to diversify their respective economies.
“We must update our regulatory frameworks and financial systems to protect our economies and promote transparency in all our transactions. In this regard, Trinidad and Tobago is a presently a candidate for full membership in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and we are on course to eventually become a full member of this body.“ she said..
She reiterated the need for south-south cooperation noting that Trinidad and Tobago celebrates has resolved to pursue new partnerships, markets and opportunities.
“Along these lines, my government through the National Energy Cooperation (NEC) is working on a “New Africa Initiative” which includes providing assistance to newly emerging energy producing countries in Africa; seeking to work with and share best practices in the areas in which we have excelled including power generation and the commercialization of natural gas. Within our own region we have recently signed Memoranda of Cooperation on energy related matters with Panama, Guyana and Grenada.
“At the same time, Trinidad and Tobago’s private sector is also looking to the African and Latin America for trade, technical and economic cooperation. Indeed, some private sector partners within the Caribbean are already actively engaged with countries on the African continent, investing and working in mutually beneficial partnerships.”
She concluded on a hopeful note that this first ever Americas Africa Business forum will be a step in this direction.
“Our future is brighter than our past. I would like to leave you with the words enshrined in the Coat of Arms of our country, our watch words, which I find especially inspiring today, “Together we Aspire, Together we Achieve”. This, I humbly submit, is not only applicable to my country but to our two continents – Africa and the Americas."
|Sec. General of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulze with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar|