The Group DC LLC, the US lobbyist firm, which undertook several trade and investment promotion initiatives for the T&T Government last year, identified opportunities and strategies to engage multinational corporations to potentially increase commercial shipping and drydock construction here.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert outlined the work the firm did in 2018 in response to questions from Naparima MP Rodney Charles in Parliament on Friday.
The firm has been a source of Opposition queries since it was hired by Government in 2016 for $14.7 million to provide lobbying services. It was reported that the agreement was for two years at a rate of US $1.2 million annually. Quarterly instalments were to be paid.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who defended the hiring of the firm, had said the decision was taken in 2015 and he knew owner Arthur “Art” Collins very well. He said the firm was chosen since “we know them and are satisfied they can do the job.”
The Group’s six-pronged scope of works—to lobby for T&T on energy, security, trade, finance and other issues—also included collaborating with Government on “addressing the challenge of ISIS recruitment of Trinidad and Tobago citizens.”
Replying to Charles in Parliament, Imbert detailed the firm’s work in 2018:
• Increased T&T’s visibility by working directly with leaders of the US Senate and Congressional Committees plus Senators and Congressmen representing areas that constitute important matters and other interests for T&T.
• Monitored legislative issues affecting T&T in the US Congress.
• Conducted research and formulated proposed economic diversification strategy that would establish T&T as a corporate outsourcing jurisdiction.
• Engaged CitiGroup to discuss with Government the possibility of establishing a financial hub locally, specific options for diversification and additional risk mitigation initiatives that would support this.
• Promoted T&T economic diversification efforts related to proposed expansion of gaming in a regulated/taxed environment.
• Facilitated discussions between Government’s Ambassador to the US with US Members of Congress on T&T’s economic diversification efforts to increase US foreign direct investment here.
• Held discussions with senior staff of the US Foreign Affairs Committee on various issues of concern to T&T, including the de-risking phenomenon in the Caribbean and Latin America and economic and national security challenges posed by the lack of correspondent banking relationships in the region, plus establishment of Trinidad and Tobago as a regional banking hub.
• Discussions on US-TT economic relationships and national security partnerships; the Caribbean Basin Initiative and Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.
• Discussed proposed engagement strategy between the US Commerce Secretary and T&T’s Ambassador, to enhance bilateral trade, investment and economic opportunities between the US and T&T
• Participated in discussions with senior Government officials on securing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) airport pre-clearance designation for the Piarco International Airport and met with House of Representatives Homeland Security staff on the airport pre-clearance programme.
• Collaborated with T&T’s Embassy on special projects such as T&T Diaspora Engagement events; and economic development initiatives to stimulate trade/ investment opportunities in the US for T&T’s manufacturing sector (through strengthened supply chain), financial services sector and energy sector.
• Formulated communications strategy with the Prime Minister’s office around establishing spotlight on T&T’s energy sector to help achieve more favourable energy sector agreements.
• Secured additional interest by US officials in participating in official travel to T&T.
• Discussed strategies for engagement in future events of the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference to expose the Conference attendees and the broader US public to T&T’s diverse citizenry.
Charles said Imbert had only outlined initiatives and he wanted him to give tangibles. Imbert replied: “I just did...”
Charles persisted, asking whether the firm did enough to improve TT-US relations, considering the US recently criticised T&T. Imbert said T&T had excellent US relations. UNC MP Barry Padarath also asked why Government had to have a US lobbyist to talk with the TT diaspora in the US. The House Speaker did not allow that question.
- by Gail Alexander