Situated at the southern end of the Caribbean and only 11 km from the Venezuelan coast, the twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago has long stood out in the Caribbean and South American regions. Rich in oil and gas, T&T’s economy is comparatively wealthy, featuring robust democratic institutions and a vibrant culture. However, as a result of its reliance on oil and gas exports the country has faced similar issues to other hydrocarbons-based economies; with growth slowing following the fall in global energy prices in 2014. Nevertheless, these exogenous shocks have provided a renewed political momentum towards greater economic diversification as a means of ensuring sustained development.
T&T was settled around 7000 years ago and its original inhabitants were Amerindians, specifically the Inegri who were a part of the Arawak people, as well as the Caribs. The Spanish arrived on the islands in 1498, led by discoverer Christopher Columbus on his third voyage to the Americas. Following this, the islands were colonised in 1532 and the majority of the native population either died or were forcibly expelled. The Spanish then began importing large quantities of African slaves, facilitating the development of a plantation economy.
In the 17th century, the islands faced invasions from the Dutch and the French, with Tobago experiencing an influx of settlers from these countries. Indeed, Tobago changed hands more frequently between 1650 and 1814 than any other Caribbean territory. Trinidad became a British colony in 1802 following the Treaty of Amiens, Tobago joined Trinidad under British rule in 1814 and the administration of the two islands was combined in 1889. Slavery was formally abolished in 1833. Throughout the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of Indian, Chinese and Portuguese immigrants arrived as indentured labourers. Independence was achieved in 1962 and the twin-island country became a republic in 1976.
Population & Demographics
In 2018 the population of T&T stood at 1.37m, according to the UN. Owing to its small size, the country is relatively densely populated with 267 people per sq km. The population growth rate stood at 0.3% in 2017, down from 0.5% in 2004. The low replacement rate has contributed to a gradually ageing population, with the median age standing at 34.3 years in 2018. This demographic transition – which is characteristic of high-income economies – has placed increasing pressures on the nation’s pension and health care systems, according to the Central Bank of T&T.
Approximately 96% of the population lives in Trinidad and 4% in Tobago, with only 8.3% of the population residing in urban areas as of 2018. Therefore, the majority of the population resides in suburban or rural areas of the islands. The capital, Port of Spain, has a population of around 35,000 people.
Owing to the legacy of colonialism, slavery and indentured servitude, the country is very diverse in its demographic makeup. Around 80% of the population is of either African or Indian descent, some 18% has mixed heritage, 0.6% is of European extraction and 1.2% is descended from ethnic minorities, including Chinese, Syrian and Lebanese.
Language & Religion
The official language of the country is English, but a large portion of the population speaks an English-based creole language. In addition, a minority speak French- or Spanish-based creoles, as well as Indian and Chinese dialects. T&T does not have an official religion, and freedom of religious belief is enshrined in the constitution. As a result of its rich cultural heritage, several religions are practised. According to the most recent census from 2011, an estimated 32% of Trinbagonians are Protestant, 22% are Roman Catholic, 18% Hindu and 5% Muslim. As such the religious calendar of T&T is equally varied, with celebrations including Christmas, Easter, Corpus Christi, Spiritual Baptist/ Shouter Liberation Day, Divali and Eid al Fitr. Alongside these, there are a range of secular national holidays, including Emancipation Day, Independence Day, Labour Day and Indian Arrival Day.
The ethnic and religious diversity of T&T is strongly reflected in the culinary and musical traditions of the two islands. The cuisine combines West African, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, European and Latin American elements and ingredients to create distinctively T&T fare.
In terms of music, T&T is home to a wide variety of genres, but its best known musical exports remain calypso and soca music. The country is also famous for so called chutney, a style that fuses Indian and Caribbean influences. The single most important event in T&T’s cultural landscape is its annual Carnival celebrations, featuring parades and flamboyant costume competitions, which attract a significant number of visitors to the capital each year.
Geography & Climate
The islands of T&T share maritime borders with Barbados to the north-east, Guyana to the south-east and Venezuela to the south and west, and are the two southernmost islands of the Caribbean archipelago, only 11 km away from Venezuela, separated by the Gulf of Paria. Trinidad is the largest island with an area of 4828 sq km and contains the country’s capital, Port of Spain, as well as its largest cities and towns, including San Fernando, Arima, Point Fortin and Chaguanas.
Trinidad has three highland areas, the Northern Range, the Central Range and the Southern Range. The former is covered in jungle and cloud forests rich in flora and fauna, with its highest mountain, El Cerro del Aripo, ascending to a height of 940 metres above sea level. The Central Range is characterised by forested hills and the Southern Range contains the Trinity Hills wildlife reserve. The Caroni Plain is composed of flatlands and hosts most of the country’s agricultural production. Tobago is comparatively much smaller, with an area of 300 sq km. The major towns of Tobago are Scarborough, Roxborough and Charlotteville. The island’s eastern interior rises steeply into tall hills, the highest of which is the 550-metre Pigeon Peak.
The climate of T&T is tropical with warm, humid weather all year. There are two seasons: a dry season extending from January to May and a rainy season from June to December. Temperatures do not vary significantly, averaging 26.5°C throughout the year, while rainfall averages 2200 mm. However, the island of Tobago tends to be slightly cooler in temperature than Trinidad, as it is exposed to a more constant wind from the north-east.
Furthermore, during the dry months Trinidad typically experiences droughts in the centre of the island. Because of its geographical location on the southern periphery of the North Atlantic hurricane basin, T&T has been largely insulated from the hurricanes that affect much of the Caribbean. Nevertheless, it can experience peripheral extreme weather associated with regional tropical storms.
T&T’s economy is highly dependent on its rich natural resources, including petroleum, natural gas and asphalt. The main resources are medium grade crude oil and natural gas, which together account for 40% of GDP and 80% of exports. T&T has been a producer of these commodities for over a century, with cumulative production totalling over 3bn barrels, according to the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries (MEEI).
In the early 1990s the country’s hydrocarbons industry shifted from oil-dominated production to a market centred primarily on the export of natural gas. According to the MEEI, natural gas production stood at 3.4bn cu feet per day in 2017. Meanwhile, oil production peaked at 193,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2007 before falling significantly to 71,800 bpd in 2017. Despite this, T&T remains the leading oil producer in the Caribbean region.
Most production of the commodity in T&T occurs offshore, and the two largest crude oil producers in the country are the Anglo-Australian multinational company BHP Billiton and the state-owned Petrotrin, with each firm controlling around 25% of the country’s crude oil production.
As of 2017 the country’s proven crude oil reserves amounted to an estimated 243m barrels, while its proven natural gas reserves stood at around 1.2trn cu feet. However, with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank, the T&T government is launching a significant energy sector project to recover proven reserves of 44m barrels of heavy oil from onshore and offshore fields.
Nevertheless, the country’s natural resources extend beyond hydrocarbons. T&T remains the world’s largest exporter of methanol and is the largest source market for US ammonia imports. Furthermore, the Pitch Lake on Trinidad’s south-western coast is among the world’s largest natural reservoirs of asphalt, with approximately 10m tonnes of pitch.