|in full flight: Prime Minister Patrick Manning yesterday.|
The floundering Eastern Caribbean economies pose a serious threat to the economic welfare and well-being of the people and economy of Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister Patrick Manning warned yesterday.
These threats involve mass illegal migration of the people of the Eastern Caribbean states into Trinidad and Tobago, an increase in drug activity, which increases the risk of the development of narco-states in the region, and a decline in the Trinidad and Tobago manufacturing sector because of the loss of the much-needed Eastern Caribbean markets. Trinidad and Tobago exports $400 million annually to this market out of one billion dollars- plus in exports to the entire region, the Prime Minister noted.
Addressing the PNM Special Convention at the Chaguaramas Convention Centre yesterday, Manning stated: "Whether we in Trinidad and Tobago like it or not, we cannot stand idly by and watch the Caribbean in this economic situation and do nothing about it. We will pay in blood for taking such a position."
"You agree with me or not?" he asked, drawing applause from the audience.
As he spoke of the imperative of economic and political union, Manning said economic union would bring the benefit of increased economic activity in the entire region - both in Trinidad and Tobago and in the countries of the Eastern Caribbean.
He said the PNM was "unassailable" both in Trinidad and Tobago and in the region.
"This country has grown substantially economically," he said, adding that in seven short years, "we have tripled" the size of this economy.
This country was moving ahead, he said, noting that his statement that the economic downturn was a "blip" was by no means a "slip of the lip", given the fact that oil prices were now $70 plus a barrel.
"I am not an obeah man. I have been around for a long time," he said.
But what of the rest of the Caribbean, he asked. It was badly off, he said and proceeded to cite specific figures.
Unemployment in the last quarter of last year was 4.2 per cent in this country. He said with the economic downturn, unemployment was slightly higher now, between five and six per cent, "but far better than almost any other country in the Caribbean". In St Vincent, unemployment was 18 per cent and in the bulk if the Eastern Caribbean it was between 15 and 20 per cent, he said. In terms of poverty index figures, it ranged between 20 and 37 per cent in the Eastern Caribbean, while it stood at 16 per cent in Trinidad and Tobago.
He said Trinidad and Tobago's public debt was 27.2 per cent of GDP.
"Aren't you happy about that?" he asked, provoking applause.
In St Vincent, the debt/GDP ratio was 67 per cent, St Lucia - 71 per cent, Barbados - 95 per cent, Dominica - just under 100, Grenada - just over 100, Antigua - 120, Jamaica - 130 and St Kitts/Nevis - 180, Manning said, the "oooohs" getting louder and louder with each figure.
In terms of reserves for imports, the situation was the same, with Bahamas having reserves for two months, Belize - 2.8 months, the Eastern Caribbean - 2.5 months, Guyana - 2.5 months, Jamaica - 2.3 months, while Trinidad and Tobago had a healthy foreign exchange reserves figure to cover 11.3 months of imports, he said.
Manning said the parlous economic situation of the Eastern Caribbean countries was due to the loss of their preferential markets upheld by the World Trade Organisation, significant decline in tourism (which was expected to worsen with the reopening of Cuba) and the financial service sector.
"What are the implications of that?" he asked rhetorically.
Referring to how Trinidad and Tobago regarded Brooklyn, New York in the 1960s, Manning said similarly, if the people of Caribbean come to the view that they cannot make a proper life in their own countries, they would look to "greener pastures".
Stating that Trinidad and Tobago would be a prime target, Manning said: "We are not going to have enough police officers to stop the influx of illegal migrants into Trinidad and Tobago...That is the reality of it."
He predicted that such a development would place enormous pressure on the social services. It would lead to squatting and then to avoid this problem, Government would have to provide them with housing, "taking away from those who are legitimately citizens of Trinidad and Tobago and therefore entitled (to housing)". Government would also have to provide school places to the children of illegal migrants, as well as health care, he noted.
"So when we say we want to enter into an arrangement with the Eastern Caribbean, it is not to satisfy anybody's ego, my dear friends. It is a realisation that if we don't go it, we don't do it at our own peril," he said.
Manning said in the context of all that was taking place in the region, coupled with the reality of formation of economic blocs all over the world, Trinidad and Tobago was holding out the idea of economic union.
"You want to come, the doors are open. We are not trying to mash up anything," Manning said, in an apparent response to concerns expressed by Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding.
He also announced that all the OECS countries met this week and agreed to sign on to the initiative of pursuing economic and political union with Trinidad and Tobago. He stressed that this initiative was not an action against Caricom, nor did Trinidad and Tobago have aspirations to dominate anybody.
"We don't have the resources to do that," he said, adding that this country certainly could not take care of the debt of all these (OECS) countries.
"What we are after is a collaborative arrangement, economically and politically, that would redound to the benefit of all ... uplifting the standard of all countries of the region."
Noting that more and more Caribbean countries were joining ALBA, he said it was time for Caricom to hold formal discussions with Venezuela to ensure that ALBA is not pursued to the detriment of Caricom.
source:Trinidad express newspapers