Trinidad and Tobago (11/03)


Republic of Trinidad and Tobago

Area: 5,128 sq. km. (1,980 sq. mi.); about 1.5 times the size of Rhode Island.
Cities: Capital--Port of Spain (metropolitan pop. 300,000).
Other cities--San Fernando, Arima, Chaguanas (Trinidad); Scarborough (Tobago).
Terrain: Plains and low mountains.
Climate: Tropical; rainy season (June through December).

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Trinidadian(s) and Tobagonian(s).
Population (2002 est.): 1.3 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.6%.
Ethnic groups: African 40%, East Indian 40.3%, mixed 14%, European 1%, Chinese 1%, other 3.7%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 32.2%, Anglican 14.4%, Hindu 24.3%, Muslim 6%, other Protestant 14%, other 9.1%.
Language: English.
Education: Years compulsory--8. Literacy--98%. Health (1999 est.): Infant mortality rate--18.6/1,000. Life expectancy--68 yrs. male; 73 yrs. female.
Work force (564,000, 1999 ): Trade and services--61%; construction--13%; manufacturing--11%; agriculture--9%; oil/gas--4%.

Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Independence: August 31,1962.
Present constitution: August 31, 1976.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--bicameral parliament. Judicial--independent court system; highest court of appeal is Privy Council in London.
Subdivisions: 7 counties, 4 municipalities (Trinidad); Tobago House of Assembly (Tobago).
Political parties: People's National Movement (PNM), United National Congress (UNC), National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) and others.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

Flag: Trinidad and Tobago flag

Economy (2002 est.)
GDP: U.S.$9.4 billion.
Annual growth rate: 3.2%.
Per capita income: U.S.$6,490.
Natural resources: Oil and natural gas, lumber, fish.
Hydrocarbons (26.3% of GDP), crude oil, natural gas, petrochemicals.
Agriculture (1.5% of GDP): Products--sugar, cocoa, citrus, poultry.
Tourism: 5% of GDP.
Manufacturing (7.2% of GDP): Types--processed food and beverages, manufacturing, printing.
Electricity and water: 1.6% of GDP.
Construction: 7.1% of GDP.
Transport/storage/communication: 8.7% of GDP.
Finance/insurance/real estate: 16.1% of GDP.
Government: 8.2% of GDP.

Columbus landed in Trinidad in 1498, and the island was settled by the Spanish a century later The original inhabitants--Arawak and Carib Indians--were largely wiped out by the Spanish colonizers, and the survivors were gradually assimilated. Although it attracted French, free Black, and other non-Spanish settlers, Trinidad remained under Spanish rule until the British captured it in 1797. During the colonial period, Trinidad's economy relied on large sugar and cocoa plantations. Tobago's development was similar to other plantation islands in the Lesser Antilles and quite different from Trinidad's. During the colonial period, French, Dutch, and British forces fought over possession of Tobago, and the island changed hands 22 times--more often than any other West Indian island. Tobago was finally ceded to Great Britain in 1814. Trinidad and Tobago were incorporated into a single colony in 1888.

In 1958, the United Kingdom tried to establish an independent Federation of the West Indies comprising most of the former British West Indies. However, disagreement over the structure of the federation and Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago's withdrawal soon led to its collapse. Trinidad and Tobago achieved full independence in 1962 and joined the British Commonwealth.

Trinidad and Tobago's people are mainly of African or East Indian descent. Virtually all speak English. Small percentages also speak Hindi, French patois, and several other dialects. Trinidad has two major folk traditions: Creole and East Indian. Creole is a mixture of African elements with Spanish, French, and English colonial culture. Trinidad's East Indian culture came to the island with indentured servants brought to fill a labor shortage created by the emancipation of the African slaves in 1833. Most remained on the land, and they still dominate the agricultural sector, but many have become prominent in business and the professions. East Indians have retained much of their own way of life, including Hindu and Muslim religious festivals and practices.

Trinidad and Tobago is a unitary state, with a parliamentary democracy modeled after that of the U.K. From 1962 until 1976, Trinidad and Tobago, although completely independent, acknowledged the British monarch as the figurehead chief of state. In 1976, the country adopted a republican Constitution, replacing Queen Elizabeth with a president elected by Parliament. The general direction and control of the government rests with the cabinet, led by a prime minister and answerable to the bicameral Parliament.

The 36 members of the House of Representatives are elected to terms of at least 5 years. Elections may be called earlier by the president at the request of the prime minister or after a vote of no confidence in the House of Representatives. The Senate's 31 members are appointed by the president: 16 on the advice of the prime minister, six on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and nine independents selected by the president from among outstanding members of the community. Trinidad's seven counties and four largest cities are administered by elected councils. Tobago was given a measure of self-government in 1980 and is governed by the Tobago House of Assembly. In 1996, Parliament passed legislation which gave Tobago greater self-government.

The country's highest court is the Court of Appeals, whose chief justice is appointed by the president after consultation with the prime minister and leader of the opposition. Final appeal on some matters is decided by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. Trinidad and Tobago was chosen by its Caribbean neighbors (CARICOM) to be the headquarters site of a contemplated Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to replace the Privy Council in the fall of 2003.

Principal Government Officials
President--George Maxwell Richards
Prime Minister--Patrick Manning
Attorney General--John Jeremie
Chief Justice--Satnarine Sharma

Selected Short List of Key Ministers
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Knowlson Gift
Minister of Tourism--Howard Chin Lee
Minister of National Security--Martin Joseph
Minister of Trade and Industry--Kenneth Valley
Minister of Energy and Energy Industries--Eric Williams
Minister of Finance--Patrick Manning
Ambassador to the U.S. and the OAS--Ms. Marina Valere
Ambassador to the UN--Phillip Sealey

The embassy of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is located at 1708 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202467-6490; fax. 202-785-3130).

The first political party in Trinidad and Tobago with a continuing organization and program--the People's National Movement (PNM)--emerged in 1956 under Dr. Eric Williams, who became Prime Minister upon independence and remained in that position until his death in1981. Politics have generally run along ethnic lines, with Afro-Trinidadians supporting the PNM and Indo-Trinidadians supporting various Indian-majority parties, such as the United National Congress (UNC) or its predecessors. Most political parties, however, have sought to broaden their purview.

The PNM remained in power following the death of Dr. Williams, but its 30-year rule ended in 1986 when the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), a rainbow party aimed at Trinidadians of both African and Indian descent, won a landslide victory by capturing 33 of 36 seats. Tobago's A.N.R. Robinson, the NAR's political leader, was named Prime Minister. The NAR also won 11of the 12 seats in the Tobago House of Assembly. The NAR began to break down when the Indian component withdrew in 1988. Basdeo Panday, leader of the old United Labor Front (ULF), formed the new opposition with the UNC. The NAR's margin was immediately reduced to 27 seats, with six for the UNC and three for the PNM.

In July 1990, the Jamaat al Muslimeen, an extremist Black Muslim group with an unresolved grievance against the government over land claims, tried to overthrow the NAR government. The group held the prime minister and members of parliament hostage for 5 days while rioting shook Port of Spain. After a long standoff with the police and military, the Jamaat al Muslimeen leader, Yasin Abu Bakr, and his followers surrendered to Trinidadian authorities. In July1992, the Court of Appeal upheld the validity of a government amnesty given to the Jamaat members during the hostage crisis. Abu Bakr and 113 other Jamaat members were jailed for two years while other courts debated the amnesty's validity. All 114 members were eventually released after a ruling by the U.K. Privy Council.

In December 1991, the NAR captured only the two districts in Tobago. The PNM, led by Patrick Manning, carried a majority of 21 seats, and the UNC came in second. Manning became the new Prime Minister and Basdeo Panday continued to lead the opposition. In November 1995, Manning called early elections, in which the PNM and UNC both won 17 seats and the NAR won two seats. The UNC allied with the NAR and formed the new government, with Panday becoming prime minister--the first prime minister of Indo-Trinidadian descent. Elections held in December 2000 returned the UNC to power when they won 19 seats, while the opposition PNM won 16, and the NAR 1. The UNC government fell in October 2001 with the defection of three of its parliamentarians, and the December 2001 elections resulted in an even 18 to 18 split between the UNC and the PNM. President Robinson invited PNM leader Manning to form a government before the end of the year, but the inability to break the tie delayed Parliament from meeting. Prime Minister Manning called elections in October of 2002. The PNM formed the next government after winning 20 seats, while the UNC won 16. Both parties are committed to free market economic policies and increased foreign investment. Trinidad and Tobago has remained cooperative with the United States in the regional fight against narcotics trafficking and on other issues.

Trinidad and Tobago experienced a real growth rate of 3.2% in 2002. This made 9 straight years of real growth after 8 years of economic decline. The government of Prime Minister Patrick Manning has continued the sound macroeconomic policies of the previous regime, and is trying to further improve the investment climate. Long-term growth looks promising, as Trinidad and Tobago further develops its hydrocarbon, petrochemical, and metals sectors--with significant increases in exports--and continues its diversification efforts in services, tourism, manufacturing, and agriculture.

Trinidad and Tobago's strong growth rate over the past few years has led to trade surpluses over the past 4 years, even with high import levels due to industrial expansion and increased consumer demand. The debt service ratio has fallen from 15.4% in 1997 to 4.4% in 2002. Unemployment continues to drop slowly, from 12.1% in 2001 to 10.4% in 2002.

The petrochemical sector, including methanol, ammonia, urea, and natural gas liquids, has continued to grow and has experienced a new burst of activity with the resumption of fullscale production of all existing facilities. Natural gas production continues to expand and should meet the needs of the many industrial plants coming on stream in the next 3 years. The major development in 2003 was the completion of Train III at the Atlantic liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant. A fourth train is currently under construction. Trinidad and Tobago is the 5th largest exporter of liquefied natural gas in the world. The expansion of Atlantic LNG over the next 4 years could create the largest-single sustained phase of economic growth in Trinidad and Tobago. It has become the leading exporter of LNG to the United States, and now supplies some 65% of U.S. LNG imports. Trinidad and Tobago is experiencing a transition from an oil-based economy to a natural gas based economy. In 2002, production of natural gas averaged 1,826 million cubic feet per day (mmcf/d) representing an increase of 14.4% over output in 2001. Atlantic LNG consumes 47% of total natural gas production. As a whole the energy sector set a record growth rate of 9.5% in 2003. In 2002 the petrochemical sector accounted for 20.2% of central government revenue.

In 2002, methanol production reached 2,828.9 thousand tons, an increase of 1.4% from the previous year. Exports at 2,782.4 thousand tons were marginally lower than in the previous year. Work continued on the two largescale methanol plants at the Point Lisas Industrial Estate during 2002. The first of these, the Atlas methanol facility, is slated to come on stream by the first quarter of 2004. The process design on the second plant, the M5000, was completed during the year. The M5000, 1.8 million tons per annum plant will be considered the world's largest of its kind and should be commissioned by early 2005.

Of the nonhydrocarbon sectors, distribution, construction, transportation, communications, and manufacturing all show signs of continued growth. Agriculture, however, has been experiencing stagnant growth rates.

U.S. investment in Trinidad and Tobago exceeds one and one-quarter billion dollars. The U.S. investment average over the last 4 years was U.S.$300 million per year.

The government's economic strategy is based on fiscal and monetary discipline, private sector investment, and export-led growth.

The exchange rate in mid 2003 was about $6.21=U.S.$1.00. The stability of the currency against the U.S. dollar has been maintained by the government's tight monetary policy.

Reductions in subsidies to state enterprises have contributed to fiscal soundness and lent credibility to the government's ongoing divestment program. Companies all or partially divested since 1994 include the National Fisheries Company, BWIA International Airways, National Flour Mills (NFM), the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission, TT Methanol Company, Trinidad Cement, TT Iron and Steel Company, and the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA). In May 1997, the government sold its remaining 69% interest in the Trinidad and Tobago Methanol Company to a consortium consisting of the local firm CL Financial and Germany's Ferrostaal and Helm. NFM was divested by an additional 14% in 1997, bringing the government's holding down to 51%. The government is currently considering creating a holding company to bring its remaining shares in several formerly wholly government-owned enterprises to market.

Trinidad and Tobago's infrastructure is adequate by regional standards. The national airport has recently been expanded. There is an extensive network of paved roads, and utilities are fairly reliable in the cities. Some areas, however, especially rural districts, still suffer from water shortages, power failures, and inadequate drainage. Some companies presently constructing large industrial plants at the Point Lisas Industrial Estate in central Trinidad are concerned that water supply to their plants will not be adequate. The government is addressing this problem with the construction of a desalinization plant. Infrastructure improvement, especially rural roads and bridges, rural electrification and telephone service, and drainage and sewerage, are among the government's budget priorities, and are generously supported by the multilateral development agencies and the European Union.

Telephone service is relatively modern and reliable, although higher priced than comparable U.S. service, since the government is contractually bound to the monopoly supplier cable and wireless (U.K.). Cellular service is available, but coverage is limited to more densely populated areas. A tendering offer for cellular licenses is expected to begin in 2004, which would add new cellular carriers to Trinidad and Tobago, thus expanding coverage and lowering fees. The government has protected the cellular market and prevented the opening of the telecommunications market. The Internet has come into widespread use, although service can be slow at peak times. The government has been slow to open up this market to competition as well.

Trinidad and Tobago is a democracy that maintains close relations with its Caribbean neighbors and major North American and European trading partners. As the most industrialized and second-largest country in the English-speaking Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago has taken a leading role in the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), and strongly supports CARICOM economic integration efforts. It also is active in the U.S.-initiated Summit of the Americas process and fully supports the establishment of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, lobbying other nations for seating the Secretariat in Port of Spain.

As a member of CARICOM, Trinidad and Tobago strongly backed efforts by the United States to bring political stability to Haiti, contributing personnel to the Multinational Force in 1994. After its 1962 independence, Trinidad and Tobago joined the UN and the Commonwealth. In 1967, it became the first Commonwealth country to join the Organization of American States (OAS). In 1995, Trinidad played host to the inaugural meeting of the Association of Caribbean States and has become the seat of this 35-member grouping, which seeks to further economic progress and integration among its states. In international forums, Trinidad and Tobago generally supports U.S. and EU positions, while guarding an independent voting record.

Trinidad and Tobago and the United States enjoy cordial relations. U.S. interests focus on investment and trade, and on enhancing Trinidad and Tobago's political and social stability and positive regional role through assistance in drug interdiction, health issues, and legal affairs. A U.S. embassy was established in Port of Spain in 1962, replacing the former consulate general.

Indicative of this strong relationship, Prime Minister Panday joined President Clinton and 14 other Caribbean leaders for the first-ever U.S.-regional summit in Bridgetown, Barbados in May 1997. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Trinidad and Tobago in March 1998. The summit strengthened the basis for regional cooperation on justice and counternarcotics, finance and development, and trade issues.

In 1999, bilateral assistance from all sources to Trinidad and Tobago amounted to more than $3 million, mostly Department of State grants, counternarcotics assistance, International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds, and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds. IMET and FMF programs were suspended in July 2003 under the terms of the American Service members Protection Act (ASPA), because Trinidad and Tobago, a member of the International Criminal Court, has not concluded a bilateral nonsurrender, or "Article 98" agreement with the United States. Currently, the main source of financial assistance provided to the defense force is through International Narcotics Law Enforcement and Traditional Commander's Activities funds. Assistance to Trinidad and Tobago from U.S. military, law enforcement authorities, and in the area of health issues remains important to the bilateral relationship and to accomplishing U.S. policy objectives.

The U.S. Government also provides technical assistance to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago through a number of existing agreements. The Department of Homeland Security has a Customs Advisory Team working with the Ministry of Finance to update its procedures. Similarly, the Treasury Department has an IRS advising team that works with the Board of Inland Revenue modernizing their tax administration. The Health and Human Services Department's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), established an office in 2002 to work with the Caribbean Epidemiology Center (CAREC) on health issues, including the devastating HIV/AIDS problem in the Caribbean.

U.S. commercial ties with Trinidad and Tobago have always been strong and have grown substantially in the last several years due to economic liberalization. U.S. firms have invested about $1 billion over the past several years--mostly in the petrochemical, oil/gas, and iron/steel sectors. More than 50 of America's largest corporations have commercial relations with Trinidad and Tobago, and more than 30 U.S. firms have offices and operations in the country. The U.S. embassy actively fosters bilateral business ties and provides a number of commercial services to potential investors and traders. Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties signed in 1996 came into force in November 1999. A Maritime Cooperation Agreement also was signed in 1996. A tax information exchange agreement was signed in 1989, and a Bilateral Investment Treaty and an Intellectual Property Rights Agreement were signed in 1994. The Bilateral Investment Treaty entered into force in 1996. Trinidad and Tobago is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI).

There are large numbers of U.S. citizens and permanent residents of Trinidadian origin living in the United States (mostly in New York), which keeps cultural ties strong. About 20,000 U.S. citizens visit Trinidad and Tobago on vacation or for business every year, and more than 2,700 American citizens are residents.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Dr. Roy L. Austin
Deputy Chief of Mission--Albert G. Nahas
Economic/Commercial Officer--A. David Miller
Political Officer--Rupert D. Vaughan
Consul General--Eugene Sweeney 
Management Officer--Cassie Ghee
Regional Security Officer--Thomas Dagon
Public Affairs Officer--Robert Skinner

The U.S. Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago is located at 15 Queen's Park West, Port of Spain (tel. 868 622-6371, fax: 868 628-5462).

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE

American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago
Hilton International-Upper Arcade
Lady Young Road
Port of Spain, Trinidad, WI
Tel: (868) 627-8570/7404, 624-3211
Fax: (868) 627-7405

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.