THE conduct of this country’s foreign relations had been allowed to exist in the diplomatic doldrums for much of the past five years, with a minister who operated more out of sight and out of mind in the public imagination. The announcement of a replacement in that Cabinet position has therefore been greeted with significant hopeful enthusiasm.
Over a long line of occupants in that office over the course of our 58 years of Independence, this country had constructed a much better image of itself, both to citizens at home and abroad, as well as with friends and allies across the globe, than was the case under the tenure of the last occupant.
At crucial moments over the course of the last five years, whether it was the Government’s decision to challenge and to seek to rewrite the terms of engagement with foreign energy giants operating here, or during the tense atmosphere created by the flood of Venezuelan nationals on our shores, the former minister was missing in action.
It is to be noted that with the appointment of a replacement in that position, a Trinidad and Tobago national with considerable experience as an international public servant, both at the Commonwealth and at the United Nations, has felt energised to offer a number of focal points upon which he posits that our foreign relations ought now to be remodelled.
In a perspective shared in public, Mr Deodat Maharaj has suggested, for example, that a turnaround in our relations with regional institutions be implemented, even to the point of seeking leadership in some of them. He said regional integration is “more vital now than ever before” as a tool for addressing the impact of Covid-19 on countries in this sub-region. His call for us to make good on long held aspirations about deeper, more substantial relations with countries such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic is not new.
Where there have also been decades of expressed ambitions for closer, more effective collaboration with other ministries as Tourism, Culture and Trade and Industry, he has called for priority action. This is a matter requiring urgency, if we are to make good on, again, oft-stated intentions to develop a more “business-oriented foreign policy”.
On this agenda item alone, there are known to be a raft of so-named “partial-scope” and other types of agreements with countries in the wider-Caribbean, and in Central America, among others, awaiting purposeful pursuit. We are encouraged to strengthen, where they exist, our relations with countries in Africa and the Pacific, or build new ones where they don’t exist.
As another example, the Minister of Energy, before he was retained in that position in the current Cabinet, went on record as having recommended that Trinidad and Tobago seek a leadership role in the region’s international energy diplomacy.
The newly appointed minister, Dr Amery Browne, was called back from duty over the last five years as the country’s ambassador in Brazil.
From that vantage point, and with some understanding of what’s involved in this expanded role as the country’s leading foreign affairs figure, he can hardly fail to take due note of these prompts towards developing a prescription for building a more dynamic T&T foreign affairs profile.