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PM Gonsalves wants 90-minute talks with Trinidad PM on fuel subsidy

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KINGSTOWN, St Vincent, June 1, – Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves says he has requested a 90-minute meeting with his Trinidadian counterpart, Kamla Persad Bissessar, next month to discuss the Caribbean Air Navigation and Advisory Services (CANAS) and regional airline, LIAT.

Gonsalves said when he was in Port of Spain on Tuesday for talks with United States Vice President Joe Biden “ I spoke to the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and I suggested to her that when we have the Heads of Government meeting in July, I asked her if she could put aside about 90 minutes (so) that we can talk”.

Gonsalves said the talks will be “at a political level” because both the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have mandated him to talk to Port-of-Spain about the operations of CANAS and shareholders governments of LIAT have empowered him to speak to Trinidad and Tobago on those issues.

He further said that Barbados has also authorized him to speak on their behalf “on the issue of the airspace”.

Gonsalves is the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) lead prime minister of regional transportation and chairman of LIAT shareholder governments.

LIAT shareholder governments have complained about the fuel subsidy that Port-of-Spain gives to Caribbean Airlines (CAL), and OECS governments have expressed concerns about the operations of CANAS.

“We have to be on the board, and we have to know what is going on, how much money you are collecting and how much money you are spending,” Gonsalves said in relation to CANAS.

“It is a simple issue of accounting and transparency. I don’t see there can be any quarrel about that. And LIAT has raised the issue in relation o fuel subsidies. It is not only in relation to LIAT; there are other knock-on effects with other airlines outside of the region.”

“And the Prime Minister said when we are meeting, the technical people can be meeting and then we join them at some point,” Gonsalves said in reference to Persad Bissessar’s response to his request.

Earlier this month, the LIAT shareholder governments – Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines – said that the Port of Spain subsidy to CAL is also a violation of the Common Air Services Agreement among Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member countries, resulting in substantial losses to LIAT.

Gonsalves said for the period 2008 to 2012, LIAT expended on fuel US $106.1 million while CAL paid US $43.64 million.

“In other words we have spent US $62.4 million on the fuel bill over this period more than we would have spent if we got the subsidy similar to CAL.”

Trinidad and Tobago Finance Minister Larry Howai said the subsidy to the CAL last year totalled US $40 million.Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves says he has requested a 90-minute meeting with his Trinidadian counterpart, Kamla Persad Bissessar, next month to discuss the Caribbean Air Navigation and Advisory Services (CANAS) and regional airline, LIAT.Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves says he has requested a 90-minute meeting with his Trinidadian counterpart, Kamla Persad Bissessar, next month to discuss the Caribbean Air Navigation and Advisory Services (CANAS) and regional airline, LIAT.