Trinidad and Tobago, Panama to strengthen Energy, Transport links

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Trinidad and Tobago and Panama are seeking to strengthen links in the areas of Energy, Transport and Maritime Services. This following high level discussions with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Panamanian President, Ricardo Martinelli yesterday at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s.

President Martinelli visited Trinidad and Tobago as a feature speaker of the Caribbean Investment Forum (CIF). Following the plenary session CIF in which the Prime Minister and the President participated, the two Leaders met to discuss issues which will see both countries strengthening links in a number of key areas.

Foreign Affairs and Communications Minister, Dr Surujrattan Rambachan; Trade and Industry Minister, Stephen Cadiz; Energy and Energy Affairs Minister Kevin Ramnarine and Transport Minister, Devant Maharaj were present for the discussions. Also present were Petrotrin Chairman, Lindsay Gillette, Lake Asphalt CEO, Deonarine Sarabjit and CAL Chairman, Rabindra Moonan.

Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar proposed the supply of aviation fuel supply to Panama following President Martinelli’s disclosure that Panama has been in the process of expanding its airport to accommodate an additional sixty-six (66) gates. On completion, the Panama City airport will be amongst the largest in Latin America.

President Martinelli told the meeting that Panama has signed an agreement with a Venezuelan company that plans to construct an underwater pipeline.

On this basis, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar noted the possibility of a joint venture that allows Trinidad and Tobago to supply fuel to Panama via this pipeline.

Gillette assured that the issue will be taken further, saying that meetings have already been held with COPA airline and an agreement is expected with regard to the export of aviation fuel. Gillette also commented on COPA airline’s current pricing and assured President Martinelli that Trinidad and Tobago will be sending bunkers to Panama.

Asphalt was also high on the agenda as Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar discussed the possibility of Trinidad and Tobago exporting refined asphalt to Panama. Gillette assured Trinidad and Tobago’s asphalt compliance with American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) international standards. Giving further details of Lake Asphalt’s output, Chief Executive Officer Deonarine Sarabjit, said that the current extraction rate and limited technology will influence the country’s export capacity of refined asphalt.

The Prime Minister, however, mandated that the production levels of refined asphalt must be reviewed and where possible increased given the availability of natural asphalt in the Pitch Lake: “We say we want new markets, we need to produce more.”

The issue of transport between the two countries also featured high in the discussions as Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar took further President Martinelli’s offer for direct Caribbean Airlines flights from Panama to Trinidad as announced by the President during the CIF. The Prime Minister recalled that in 2008 there was a request for a bilateral air services agreement between Trinidad and Tobago and Panama and expressed an interest in reviving this agreement.

President Martinelli explained that there is currently an open sky agreement under which COPA airlines is operating flights between Trinidad and Panama and he welcomes the opportunity for an increase in COPA flights to Trinidad. Transport Minister Maharaj proposed that Trinidad and Tobago could be established as a transport hub for passengers travelling from Miami to Panama. The Prime Minister agreed and suggested that Caribbean Airlines could transport passengers travelling on COPA airlines to destinations not served by COPA.

President Martinelli agreed that there may be opportunity for code-sharing agreements between the two airlines and encouraged a discussion with the airline. Caribbean Airlines Chairman, Rabindra Moonan, who was also present, assured further discussions will be held.

Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar also sought Panamanian expertise, through the President, in the area of maritime services following Transport Minister Maharaj’s discussion on capacity at the nation’s capital port facilities and the need for a ship registry.

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