KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, May 16, IWN — LIAT shareholder governments have agreed to give Trinidad and Tobago a summary of a legal opinion it has received on the fuel subsidy Port-of-Spain gives to its state-owned carrier, Caribbean Airlines (CAL).
“We don’t have to give her (Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Kamla Persad Bissessar) the whole legal opinion,” Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said at a press conference on Tuesday.
He, however, said that LIAT shareholder governments, of which he is chairman, would provide Persad Bissessar and her advisors with the facts, as the shareholder governments have them, regarding the impact on LIAT of the fuel subsidy granted to CAL.
Gonsalves, who is chair of LIAT shareholder governments, reading from the confidential legal opinion, said:
“The fuel subsidy, or the fuel cap, granted to Caribbean Airlines by the government of Trinidad and Tobago, on the face of it, violates the obligation of Trinidad and Tobago under the multilateral agreement concerning the operation of air services within the Caribbean Committee and the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
“There are several breaches for which we can seek different courses or avenues for action,” he further commented.
Gonsalves said LIAT could go to arbitration, lay a claim before Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) regarding alleged breaches by CAL of several articles involving trade liberation, government assistance, public undertakings, and breach of the rules relating to impermissible subsidies.
The regional airline also has the option of lodging a complaint to the CARICOM competition commission to investigate and sanction CAL for anti-competitive business conduct, Gonsalves said.
He said that while the situation is untenable, LIAT’s owners do not want a fight with Port-of-Spain.
“We don’t want a confrontation with the government of Trinidad and Tobago. All we want is a discussion, a good conversation on this subject of unfair competition. Of course, we want to have a discussion on a nexus and there are a number of issues with CAL and LIAT, which we can resolve with routes, and the rest of it. That is one discussion, but we also want to have a discussion on the fuel subsidy or the fuel cap,” he said.
He further said that LIAT is confident that both the law and the facts support its claims against Trinidad and Tobago.
“This has gone on for far too long and we have to have a resolution of it,” Gonsalves said, as he reiterated that LIAT wants “an amicable resolution of this matter.
“But this is a serious matter, especially when you hear the facts,” he further said.
Gonsalves also noted a report in the Trinidad media in which opposition leader Keith Rowley is quoted as saying that if the matter goes to the CCJ, Port-of-Spain “would not have a leg to stand on ‘because we are subsidising an airline which is competing with other airlines in the region who are not part of the subsidy’”.
The report further quoted Rowley as saying the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas requires that his country either stops the subsidy to CAL or makes it available to the other regional airline.
“Of course, you know that is the position that I have been articulating for quite some time and it would be very good to see other governments and other leaders of the opposition, other government not directly connected with the shareholders and other leaders of the opposition other than Rowley, to put themselves on record in this emphatic matter,” Gonsalves said.