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Cultural diplomacy for economic benefits
Now that the ceremony and the pleasantries occasioned by the presence here of Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan at the Emancipation Day celebrations are over and are fading from the collective mind, the time is right for concerted follow-up action on the promised expansion and intensification of trade with this mammoth African nation, which consists of over 170 million people.
The fact of the face-to-face contact between the two leaders, first at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting last year, and now through the Nigerian President’s visit, opens up real possibilities for trade and cultural exchanges between West Africa, Trinidad and Tobago and by extension the Caribbean.
Both leaders, at the Emancipation Day celebrations, made a point of recognising the historical links between the two countries, going back centuries, with President Jonathan saying that those links have not been forgotten by his country.
Further, because of the nature of the two economies, both energy-based, there are sure to be synergies beyond ground for narrow competitive interests—the reality being that with Nigeria producing in excess of 2.7 million barrels of oil per day, compared to T&T’s production which has dropped below 100,000 bpd, there can be no competition.
However, with regard to the possibility of this country lending its experience and expertise to Nigeria to make an attempt to monetise its vast untapped, unexplored gas fields, there is room for co-operation. Having been here and had a taste of T&T’s cultural products, many of which arise from the historical cultural ties referred to by the two leaders, there must surely be potential for T&T’s under-utilised cultural resources to be put to commercial use. Our entrepreneurs and the creators of the cultural products should themselves develop creative ideas as to how to package the steelband, the soca and calypso and other artforms for export to Nigeria.
Given the size, range and natural resource-base of that country, there must surely be possibilities for T&T to source raw materials and finished goods from Nigeria on competitive terms. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar spoke while President Jonathan was here of opening air links for the national airline to fly directly between West Africa and T&T. If that were to be achieved, it would make it an attractive communication option, cutting out the need to fly thousands of miles northwards before going south to West Africa.
Such a connection, if made, would surely not only open-up trading and human interaction, but could contribute to the long-term viability of Caribbean Airlines. The emerging T&T-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce, established in 2011, should be used as the platform to bring business executives from T&T and Nigeria together.
At the launch of the chamber in February 2011, Nigeria’s High Commissioner to T&T, Musa John Jen, said, “It is common knowledge that commerce and trade between nations are the key to the strengthening of bilateral relationships and the establishment of closer partnerships and collaboration in the commanding sectors of the economy of both countries.”
Business executive from both sides should use the initiative of the visit by the 70-strong Nigerian delegation to establish the business links needed. The governments for their parts have the responsibility to negotiate a meaningful memorandum of understanding which sets down the basis for exploring what is possible. Diplomacy, in today’s world, must produce economic benefits as well as valuable human contact for the people of the countries involved.
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