Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Trinidad's Foreign Minister Winston Dookeran spent much of yesterday's press conference assuring Jamaicans that his country's relationship with its Caribbean neighbour remains a high priority for the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration.
Seated beside Dookeran was his Jamaican equal, A. J. Nicholson, who emphasised that this was no time for blame. It was the Jamaican minister who invited Dookeran to talk on local shores as threats of a boycott of products out of Trinidad and Tobago loomed.
"We in the Caribbean must uphold the dignity of our citizens and we must do so by resolving the systems through which we operate through constructive dialogue," declared Dookeran after the completion of two days of bilateral talks.
Dookeran was readily supported by Nicholson. "I think we can safely say that our consultations were fruitful in addressing many of the wrinkles that are apparent and have provided the impetus for further engagement on these and other matters of real concern."
Both men presented a united front, symbolic of their intentions to crush the impasse that threatened to drive another wedge between the two countries, which have been wrangling over trade issues for several years.
"Minister Winston Dookeran and I co-chaired important meetings where we consulted and engaged in discussions on the hassle-free travel of Jamaicans into Trinidad and Tobago … , " said Nicholson.
David Prendergast of the ministry's Trade Agreement and Implementation Unit hovered over the two men as they signed the agreed minutes of the consultations between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago at the end of the first round of talks, which culminated yesterday.
The issue of hassle-free movement between the two countries took centrestage, with Dookeran putting into perspective the issues that culminated in 13 Jamaicans being returned unceremoniously to local shores, angering Jamaicans and creating tensions in Trinidad.
Dookeran disclosed that in 2013, 56,324 Jamaicans sought entry into Trinidad and Tobago. Of that number, Dookeran said 54,362 - or 96 per cent - were given right of entry.
Nicholson agreed that while the the number of Jamaicans returned this year over last was higher, there was no indication that his compatriots were being profiled.
Apart from the proof supplied by the overwhelming numbers, Dookeran stressed that his investigations failed to yield proof that Jamaicans were being targeted by Trinidadian authorities.
"There appeared to be a perception that had developed in light of the rulings of Trinidad and Tobago's immigration recently that there had been some targeting and profiling of Jamaican nationals," said Dookeran.
"I want to say categorically that based on my own conversations with the authorities, there is absolutely no truth to that … . What happened was a natural outcome of the immigration process," he added.
Dookeran described the two days of dialogue as "extraordinary". He said the two teams were able to craft a point of reference and a plan to move forward.
"As I learnt, the issues were much wider and deeper, but we could not in our two days address all the issues in our bilateral relationships," said Dookeran.
However, Dookeran said the teams were able to get down to the details and specifics of issues that would inform the agenda on immigrations matters.
He revealed that a detailed set of recommendations were fleshed out during the two days of meetings. He said there was need to establish what the rules of the games were and ought to be.