with Spanish world
the Caribbeans leading producer of oil and gas, tiny
T&T, with a population of just over 1.3 million, has
to compete yearly with larger, more powerful nations both
regionally and internationally.
A small population means a small domestic market. Therefore,
our manufacturers and exporters must have access to foreign
markets for T&T to become a serious international competitor.
According to Minister of Trade and Industry Kenneth Valley,
The Government has been working diligently to lay
the foundation for sustainable economic growth by seeking
to integrate our economy into the Latin American economy.
One of the ways the Government achieves this is by bilateral
trade agreements. Given our close proximity to Latin America
and with the Cabinet-mandated Spanish As the First Foreign
Language (SAFFL) initiative, it is no wonder that all of
the bilateral trade agreements to which this country is
a signatory are with Spanish-speaking countries.
As the name implies, a bilateral trade agreement is basically
a trading arrangement whereby two countries, referred to
as the parties, agree to reduce tariffs and quotas on goods
imported and exported between them. These arrangements are
also often aimed at solving specific trade problems between
the two parties and capitalising on specific market opportunities
available in the respective countries.
T&T signs these agreements as a more developed country
(MDC) of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and as a result
has to make reciprocal market access concessions to its
bilateral trade partners. Less developed countries (LDCs)
do not have this obligation but still benefit from duty-free
access to the partners markets.
T&Ts bilateral trade agreements are normally
designed to promote investment and development in the region
in order to increase the international competitiveness of
Additionally, considering the desirability of developing
a more dynamic and balanced commercial economic relationship,
they also facilitate joint ventures between the two signatory
parties and foster the use of mechanisms to promote and
protect the investments of nationals from both parties.
Under each bilateral trade agreement, a joint council or
a joint commission, comprised of representatives from both
Caricom and the respective country, is often formed. Its
primary function is to ensure that both parties comply with
the provisions of the agreement and to resolve any problems
or disputes which may arise in relation to the agreement.
However, it may also be assigned additional functions by
the parties. Meetings are usually held once a year or at
the request of either party.
Situated just ten km off the coast, Venezuela is T&Ts
oldest bilateral trade partner. Signed on October 13, 1992,
the Caricom/Venezuela Agreement on Trade and Investment
is a one-way preferential agreement designed to promote
Caricom exports to Venezuela.
Consequently, goods like spices, by-products of iron and
steel and propane, proceeding from Caricom countries including
T&T, now have duty-free access to the Venezuelan market
of more than 25 million people, via the implementation of
programmes of tariff reduction and the elimination of non-tariff
Another neighbouring country with which we have a bilateral
trade agreement is Colombia, which offers a market of over
43 million. The Agreement on Trade, Economic and Technical
Co-operation between Caricom and the Colombia was signed
on July 24, 1994.
This agreement provided for preferential tariff rates to
Caricom goods entering Colombia. However, this was later
amended to also allow for tariff reductions on imports from
Colombia into Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and T&T.
Naturally, the primary objective of the agreement is also
to strengthen the trade and economic relations and technical
co-operation between the parties. However, unlike the one
with Venezuela, this agreement clearly identifies as one
of its objectives the promotion of the active participation
of the private sector, including business exchanges between
In addition, the first free trade agreement signed by Caricom
was with the Dominican Republic on August 22, 1998. It allows
duty-free access for all goods, excluding those listed in
the appendices to the agreement, to the Dominican Republic
market, which at present represents more than nine million
The goods listed in the appendices are either subject to
phased reduction of the most-favoured-nation (MFN) rate
over a specific period or are goods which will remain subject
to this rate of duty.
Caricom signed another important bilateral trade agreement
on July 5, 2000, with the Cuban Government. This comprehensive
trade and economic co-operation agreement shares most of
the objectives of the aforementioned agreements and like
the one with the Dominican Republic, also seeks to liberalise
trade in services.
However, it also seeks to discourage anti-competitive business
practices between the parties and to promote an ongoing
system of consultation and co-ordination for the exchange
of information and views on economic and social matters
of mutual interest.
Other significant aspects of this agreement are specific
provisions made for the tourism industry, intellectual property
rights, and trade promotion and facilitation.
Costa Rica is also a country with which Caricom has a free
trade agreement, established March 9, 2004.
In addition to increasing trade and diversification between
the parties, the agreement also aims to promote conditions
of fair competition and promote regional integration in
the Americas, which in turn will assist in gradually eliminating
trade and investment barriers. Therefore, it provides for
either free trade or preferential access for a wide range
At the end of 2005, some 95 per cent of products were eligible
for duty-free trade. However, some items like cigarettes
and chocolate are still subject to duty while the duty on
others is gradually being eliminated.
This agreement establishes free trade co-ordinators to monitor
its implementation and standing committees on market access,
trade in services and investment, and anti-competitive business
practices, unlike the other agreements.
T&T also has a bilateral investment treaty with Cuba
and as recently as October 3, signed a similar treaty with
Mexico, allowing our manufacturers and investors easier
access to a market of over 107 million individuals.
Spain is one of five European countries targeted for investment
promotion by the Government and bilateral trade negotiations
are underway with Argentina and Chile. This trend in using
bilateral trade agreements with the Spanish-speaking economic
powerhouses to boost trade and investment opportunities
is increasing as T&T adopts Spanish as its first foreign
For more information about the Spanish As the First Foreign
Language initiative, please contact the Secretariat for
the Implementation of Spanish (a division of the Ministry
of Trade and Industry) at 624-8329/627-9513 or fax us at