- 29 MAY 2018
Prime Minister Dr the Honourable Keith Rowley, M.P.’s Official Visit to China and Working Visit to Australia in May 2018
The Prime Minister, Dr the Hon. Keith Rowley, M.P. led a delegation on an Official Visit to the People’s Republic of China commencing in Beijing, China on May 14th to May 19th, 2018, immediately followed by a Working Visit to Australia from May 20th to May 26th, 2018.
Official Visit to China
The delegation which accompanied the Prime Minister on his Official Visit to China included, Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, Senator Dennis Moses, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister and Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs, Stuart Young, M.P., Ambassador to China, Stephen Seedansingh Jnr., Chief of Defence Staff, Commodore Hayden Pritchard, Chairman of Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL), Shameer Mohammed, Chairman of Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago (1978) Limited, Christopher John Williams and Mr Dwight Yorke. The delegation also included Mrs Sharon Rowley.
In 2013 His Excellency Xi Jingping President of the People’s Republic of China proposed creating a network of railways, roads, pipelines and utility grids that would link China, Central and West Asia and parts of South Asia called the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative or Belt and Road. The name is an adaptation of a similar Chinese policy called the Silk Road Initiative. It aims to create the world’s largest platform for economic, policy cooperation, trade and financing collaboration as well as social and cultural cooperation through open discussion and Chinese investment.
In May 2017, Trinidad and Tobago was the first Caribbean nation to support the OBOR initiative, with the Prime Minister sending Minister Stuart Young, to participate in President Xi Jinping’s OBOR forum in Beijing, China. This was followed up by Trinidad and Tobago becoming the first Caribbean nation to sign on to OBOR on this Official Visit to China via the execution of an MOU on May 15, 2018. Trinidad and Tobago’s signing of this MOU is a historic event with far reaching impact for our country and indeed the region. Once again, Trinidad and Tobago has led the way in the region.
The signing of this MOU fits perfectly into the vision of Prime Minister Dr the Hon. Keith Rowley, that Trinidad and Tobago be established as the gateway for China to South and Central America. The geographic position of Trinidad and Tobago is strategically ideal for this, along with, its stable political, judicial, legal and economic climate and English being our primary language, all provide China with advantages in progressing its OBOR initiative. It also promotes Trinidad and Tobago allowing us to undertake significant, meaningful economic diversification.
As Dr Rowley stressed continuously throughout his visit to China, Trinidad and Tobago is no longer looking to hire Chinese contractors to come, build projects, get paid and leave our shores. Trinidad and Tobago’s new policy is to establish equity partnerships with the Chinese to develop and run revenue-generating facilities that would marry into the Belt and Road objectives and fulfil the national vision for Trinidad and Tobago.
During the week-long visit the Prime Minister and members of the delegation met with the leaders of a wide range of Chinese state firms in order to promote meaningful investments in Trinidad and Tobago and to build strategic relationships between the two countries.
Tourism, air service agreements, international standard dry-docking, industrial parks construction and populating by Chinese businesses, national security initiatives, and a number of other projects featured in these discussions.
Some of the major initiatives, achievables and outcomes from the Official Visit to China are:
- The Prime Minister and members of his delegation met with Premier Li Keqiang and other Chinese Executive members on May 14thand the parties executed the following MOUs and Agreement: (1) Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation within the Framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative. This agreement (Belt and Road) is set to take Trinidad and Tobago into a new realm of diversification, economic activity and transformation; (2) Memorandum of Understanding between the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago on Strengthening Cooperation in the Field of Medicine and Health (particular emphasis on neurology); (3) Memorandum of Understanding on Human Resource Development Cooperation between the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Public Administration and Communication of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; and (4) Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago;
- These MOUs and Agreement serve to bring the mutual interest of Trinidad and Tobago closer in various fields and importantly allow for a number of important projects to take place in Trinidad and Tobago enhancing our efforts to diversify our economy;
- On May 14ththe Prime Minister, Minister Young and the Chairman of CAL, Mr Mohammed met with Mr Chen Feng, the Chairman of Hainan Airlines and the HNA Group and a number of executives from the group. Discussions surrounded CAL entering into code sharing arrangements with Hainan Airlines, as well as, other commercial arrangements including possible, leasing of aircraft for renewal of CAL fleet and the expansion of logistical arrangements in Trinidad and Tobago. The HNA Group also discussed bringing Chinese tourists to Trinidad and Tobago. Over 120 million Chinese citizens travelled as tourists last year and this is expected to rise to 200 million in the near future. The Government, CAL and Chinese interests intend to work on getting some of this tourist market to Trinidad and Tobago and the southern Caribbean region.
- The Prime Minister and members of his delegation met with His Excellency Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China on May 15thwhere President Xi acknowledged the long-standing official relationship between China and Trinidad and Tobago. In 2019 the countries will celebrate 45 years of this official relationship and the leaders discussed celebrating this important anniversary. The Prime Minister gave his view on President Xi’s OROB initiative and discussed the benefits that Trinidad and Tobago held for itself and to China in any expansion into markets and services in South and Central America.
- Both H.E. President Xi Jinping and H.E. Premier Li Keqiang extended invitations for Trinidad and Tobago to take part in an international trade expoon importation to be held in China in November 2018. This invitation was accepted and Trinidad and Tobago will participate in this event thereby providing us with an opportunity to market products for export from Trinidad and Tobago;
- President Xi and Premier Li discussed and agreed with Prime Minister Rowley that Chinese firms would be permitted to invest equity, and actively participate, in commercially viable projects in Trinidad and Tobago, as opposed to the traditional finance and build mould. This is a significant development in the relationship between our countries and permits direct and indirect FDI by Chinese state companies. The leaders also discussed a Chinese bank(s) coming to Trinidad and Tobago and setting up operations here;
- Trinidad and Tobago committed to easing visa restrictions for Chinese citizens as this will attract some of China’s 120 million annual tourist leisure travellers (expected to rise to 200 million), as well as, Chinese businessmen. Chinese citizens who are the holders of USA visas or Canadian visas will be exempted from the requirement to obtain a Trinidad and Tobago visa to enter our country, this promotes and increases, business and leisure tourism in our country by Chinese travellers.
- Prime Minister and members of the Trinidad and Tobago delegation met with executives from various Chinese State Companies in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzen including, Beijing Construction Engineering Group, China Communications Construction Co Ltd, China Harbour Engineering Company, China Gezhouba Group International Co Ltd, China Railway Construction Corporation Limited, Shanghai Constructions Group and techno giant Huawei. The delegation also visited the Yangshan Deep-Water Port (the largest cargo port in the world) in Shanghai and the Youlian Dockyards on Mazhou Island Base in Shenzhen;
- The expected outcome of these meetings are that Chinese State Companies will consider investing and building a dry docking facility in La Brea, participate in the competitive BOLT process for a new Terminal at the ANR Robinson international airport in Tobago; participate in the competitive BOLT process for the construction of a new central block for the POS General Hospital; participate in housing projects; consider the possibility of equity investment and in the construction of the Sandals project in Tobago; participate in the competitive processes for the construction of road and other infrastructure projects in Trinidad and the use of TT asphalt in airport tarmac projects in China. (The world’s largest airport is currently under construction in Beijing).
- The Chairman of CAL met with Air China and Hainan Airlines. It is expected that CAL will work towards establishing more direct air links and strategic partnerships with China airlines aimed at promoting the number of tourist and improving connectivity and growth.
- The Prime Minister and his delegation met with a number of Chinese businessmen from a wide array of industries including investment financing, real estate development, artificial intelligence and manufacturing robotics, ICT and tours and travel and discussed investment in Trinidad and Tobago. There will be a Chinese fact finding delegation comprising government officials, academia, high tech professionals and business people visiting Trinidad and Tobago to explore investment opportunities in coming months.
- There were meetings with the Deputy Mayor of Shanghai (pop. 25 million) and the Mayor of Shenzen (population of approximately 12 million) and the executives of these municipal governments.
The Official Visit to China ended on May 19th, 2018 and the Prime Minister, Mrs Rowley and Ministers Moses and Young travelled to Perth, Australia for the commencement of an intensive working visit.
Working Visit to Australia
The Prime Minister focused efforts in Australia on identifying best in class marine vessels to service Trinidad and Tobago via the sea bridge between our twin islands as well as possible border control marine vessels for the Coast Guard. Making contact with experienced law enforcement authorities was also a priority.
The major initiatives, and outcomes from the Working Visit are:
- On Monday 21stMay, Prime Minister Rowley and his team met with executives of Austal Shipyards in Perth. Austal is one of Australia’s major shipbuilders of aluminium vessels for civilian and military use and has supplied Coast Guard vessels to Trinidad and Tobago in the past. The water taxis used between San Fernando and Port of Spain are built by Austal. The delegation received a tour of Austal’s facility as well as some of the vessels made by the Austal. The delegation witnessed the current construction of 109 meter fast ferry vessels for European operators and toured one of Austal’s Cape class military vessels in use by the Australian Border Protection agency. A presentation was made by the company detailing its ability to custom build vessels to the high specifications of the client (Australian Border Control and the US Navy), such vessels being suitable for the conditions under which they are expected to perform. Discussions were also had with respect to the time line within which requisite vessels could be made and supplied, the types of financing, maintenance and operational arrangements that may be available;
- On Tuesday 22ndMay, Prime Minister Rowley led his team in a meeting with Australian Export Finance (EFIC) at their headquarters in Sydney. EFIC is Australia’s export credit agency whose loans are backed by the Australian Government and geared towards assisting Australian exporters. Discussions centered around Trinidad and Tobago’s in-place financing arrangements with EFIC for the current fleet of Austal vessels and the possibility of future financing to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for the purchase of new ferries and Coast Guard vessels. It was noted that Trinidad and Tobago has met all of its commitments related to the EFIC financing and accordingly has a good credit rating;
- Also on Tuesday 22ndMay, Minister Stuart Young attended a meeting with the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Justice and the NSW Police Force in Sydney where the discussions focused on national security issues. In attendance at the meeting were officers from the NSW Department of Justice, the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet and the NSW Police Force. Useful information with respect to the legislation in NSW and the Commonwealth of Australia, the application of the law and police and judicial operations against terrorism were exchanged. Both the NSW Department of Justice and the NSW Police Force agreed to assist Trinidad and Tobago in the near future by co-operating with their counterpart Trinidad and Tobago bodies;
- Additionally, on May 22nd, Prime Minister Rowley and Ministers Moses and Young met with representatives of the NSW Government, at the Department of Premier and Cabinet in Sydney. The roundtable meeting focused on counter terrorism and countering violent extremism and the NSW whole of government approach and cross-agency cooperation in dealing with this issue. Australia and Trinidad and Tobago are currently faced with these challenges with the Australians having had more experience in regulating and dealing with these issues;
- On Wednesday 23rdMay, the Prime Minister and his delegation met with directors and executive officers of International Catamarans (INCAT), an Australian shipbuilding company in Hobart Tasmania. They also received a tour of the shipyard and viewed first-hand, fast ferry vessels currently under construction for European operators. INCAT, based in Hobart, is the Australian company which built the T&T Express and the T&T Spirit which were purchased sometime ago as used vessels, by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to service the sea bridge. The parties discussed the supply of fast ferry vessels to service the sea bridge, the timing and availability and the operations and maintenance of any such vessels;
- On Thursday 24thMay, Prime Minister Rowley and his team commenced the day’s scheduled meetings by attending a meeting with the Commonwealth of Australia Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Mr Tony Sheehan and members of his staff. At this meeting there were discussions related to Australia’s experience with terrorism with emphasis on legislation, the sharing of intelligence, monitoring methodologies, investigations and prosecution of those involved in terrorism. The details on legislation will be shared with Trinidad and Tobago for consideration to adopt the relevant and useful items into our suite of legislation;
- The Prime Minister continued his Working Visit on Thursday 24thMay, by meeting with the Prime Minister of Australia the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull at Parliament House, Canberra. The two Prime Ministers were later joined by Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Julie Bishop, Australia’s Minister of Trade, the Hon. Steve Ciobo and Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, Senator the Hon. Dennis Moses and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister and Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs, the Hon. Stuart Young, M.P. Matters of national security, border protection, counter terrorism as well as sea transport were the main focus of the discussions with Prime Minister Turnbull and his Cabinet Ministers. Later on that day the Prime Minister and his delegation toured Australia’s Parliament and were guests of the Speaker of the House in the Chamber for Question time;
- On Friday 25thMay, the Prime Minister and Ministers Moses and Young meet with BHP executives at BHP’s head office in Melbourne, Australia. The participants discussed BHP’s current operations in Trinidad and Tobago and in particular their on-going exploration plans which include the drilling of three wells commencing shortly, in areas where they have already found significant gas (Le Clerc). There was also discussion around the commitment of the Government to work with BHP towards future production of oil and gas in its fields and the negotiation of new commercial terms. BHP indicated an understanding of the Government’s position and emphasized the importance of its assets in Trinidad and Tobago from its global balance sheet perspective, BHP indicated its intention to co-operate with the Government as it moves towards the production of more oil and gas;
- Later on during the day of May 25, 2018 Prime Minister Rowley, and Ministers Moses and Young met with the Chief Executive Officer of Cricket Australia, Mr James Sutherland and Brett Wood, National Infrastructure Manager of Cricket Australia.Cricket Australia is the national governing body for cricket in Australia. The discussions surrounded the history and importance of West Indies Cricket and the recent developments in West Indies cricket, including its debilitating current state. The Prime Minister provided a briefing on the position of Caricom leaders and how they collectively feel about the management and sharp decline of West Indian cricket. The parties discussed the role of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the need to return the West Indies Cricket team to an acceptable position in international cricket.
The Australian participants confirmed that West Indies cricket played an important role in Australia’s cricket history and that West Indies players were always well respected and loved.It was agreed that Cricket Australia would provide whatever support it could to assist West Indies cricket going forward. Prime Minister Rowley sits on the CARICOM Heads Cricket Committee which is chaired by Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines the Hon Ralph Gonsalves. The committee is due to meet with the International Cricket Council (ICC) in November to discuss the state of West Indies Cricket; and
- Australia has recently established a $2 billion (AUS) fund to facilitate the financing of military vessels. Following the discussions in Australia, Trinidad and Tobago expects to be among the first to seek to utilize this fund in order to obtain a suitable border protection vessel to allow our Coast Guard to be able to adequately patrol and protect our vulnerable east coast and our oil and gas installations.
The Prime Minister’s Working Visit to Australia has resulted in the possibility of the supply and financing of new fast ferries to service the sea bridge and it is expected that Austal and INCAT will compete to provide these vessels and a decision would be made in the near future. The visit also provided useful contact information on counter terrorism and it is hoped that our law enforcement authorities will benefit from this contact.