Outgoing Ambassador of Chile to T&T Juan Aníbal Barría García believes this country has a multitude of resources which can be easily showcased on the international market as well as unique product and service offerings which can also assist in deepening our diversification.
After almost five years, Garcia will be leaving his post in T&T by the first week in February and will be replaced with a fresh face.
In an exit interview with the Sunday Business Guardian, the ambassador shared his insights on successes during his time in this country and how ties can be strengthened in various sectors.
In trade, he noted T&T recently concluded the third round of negotiations for the Partial Scope Trade Agreement.
Numerous benefits are anticipated to emerge from the agreement, including preferential access for several locally produced goods (via the removal of import duties) in the Chilean market.
Further, imports into T&T of selected inputs into manufacturing and consumer goods will have reduced duty.
Additionally, this country is seeking to eliminate non-tariff barriers and to foster cooperation between the countries in mutual areas of interest, including trade facilitation and electronic trade.
A fourth round is expected in May 2023.
T&T and Chile share a very important trading relationship, with the trade balance traditionally favouring this country.
According to the Trade Ministry in 2020, T&T’s exports to Chile were estimated at $333.5 million and were primarily dominated by energy products such as ammonia, liquefied natural gas and urea.
It is anticipated that this agreement can assist with the diversification of T&T’s export base to Chile toward the non-energy sector and also increase export values.
Non-energy products exported to Chile in 2020 included aromatic bitters, rum and liqueurs and cordials.
On the import side, trade has been fairly stable over the last five years, with products valued at $148 million imported from Chile in 2020.
The top imported products included tissue, wood products, clothing, grapes and frozen fish.
According to Garcia, the agreement is critical to boosting ties between the two countries as he explained, “We are very optimistic about the future of this agreement. I think this would be a very important tool for increasing and expanding our bilateral trade. It is important our commercial and bilateral trade go beyond the gas.”
He added it is also important to have more Chilean products on local supermarket shelves and vice-versa.
“I see in the Chilean supermarkets rum from different places in the Caribbean, in the Spanish and English-speaking Caribbean but what happen with you all,” Garcia said, as he added this country has a variety of excellent bands of spirits such as Angostura.
Additionally, in the area of exports, this country already has a natural advantage as Garcia said T&T, is in some ways, a “South American as well as a Caribbean country” which he attributed to its unique location and influences including the Spanish culture.
However, he noted the language barrier can be an obstacle, emphasising its importance for continuous work to be done in this sphere to create greater harmony across the board.
In this vein, Garcia suggested educational ventures where Chilean students wanting to study English can do so in T&T and local students can also have more options to pursue studies including Spanish in Chile.
Traditionally, he said people looked to North American countries like the US, the UK and Canada for academic pursuits but why not go to Chile, as Garcia emphasised the significance of not only achieving more integrated economies but also services.
“For instance, you have good researchers in climate change but for Chile, this is a big challenge. For both sides we can be winners,” he added.
Tourism and sport
In the coming weeks, T&T is expected to be flooded with tourists for what is promised to be a mega Carnival.
However, Garcia believes the reign of the Merry Monarch should not be a seasonal event but one with immense potential which can be capitalised all year round.
Further, he also noted icons like recently deceased veteran calypsonian, Leroy Calliste also known as Black Stalin, whose works can live on by being showcased to tourists.
According to the Chilean Ambassador T&T’s Carnival is a “golden product” which needs greater promotion.
“That was my recommendation to the CEO of the Carnival Commission. It goes beyond the two days. Even all now promote the events in the lead-up to Carnival to attract more visitors.
“Your Carnival is very well-known to the diaspora community in the north but not in South America so we need to discover this and maintain this with other events like the steelpan for example,” Garcia said, as he suggested private sector involvement to help promote T&T’s culture and strengths on a larger scale.
There are also many possibilities in T&T’s sports tourism as Garcia also noted that the Caribbean generally, is well-anchored through the hosting of several leading games.
“We need to show that it is more than just oil and gas and even Tobago is rich to promote,” Garcia emphasised.
Challenges to strengthen ties
Whether it be harnessing T&T’s natural resources or boosting sectors to increase exports, there are obstacles this country needs to tackle.
“Diversifying your exports, that is the main economic challenge,” Garcia said, adding that there also need to be open more markets in different areas including manufacturing.
Having greater connectivity is one means of ensuring this.
“You have to have more open skies and improve your connectivity with Chile. We have flights to Jamaica but what happened here?
“It is relevant to increase your visits to Chile and we have to do more to also attract T&T as an interesting market as well,” Garcia said, as he hoped more of his countrymen can visit this country in the future and vice-versa.
Additionally, the ambassador said more can be done to highlight T&T’s culinary delights, which can perhaps be promoted as a cuisine fair to attract foreigners and further boost forex.
Citing T&T’s mango season, for instance, Garcia said this can also be showcased as a main attraction on T&T’s international and regional calendar. Additionally, many by-products can be derived from the tropical fruit and avenues for export explored as Garcia added Chileans’ appetite for mangoes has been growing.
Despite his departing T&T, the Chilean Ambassador said this country will remain close to his heart and he hopes to always maintain ties.