Thursday 28th April 2005


T&T’s gas diplomacy

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Workers assemble the cross-island pipeline in Moruga last week.

Photo: Zen Dionne Jarette

On Friday last, when it was announced that Prime Minister Patrick Manning was leaving T&T for a three-nation visit to Chile, Peru and Venezuela, many people would have questioned his motive for travelling overseas at a time when the nation was being wracked by murder, kidnapping and other crime.

Not me.

I immediately saw that the Prime Minister was embarking on a crucial trip to the South American nations whose vote would be important if T&T is to win the secretariat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Whether FTAA ever gets off the ground is an issue dealt with by Prof Anthony Bryan on Page 10 of this publication.

Despite the horrible crime wave this country is suffering, I think there are some diplomatic forays that are best carried out by the Prime Minister. Clearly, the final push for the FTAA secretariat falls into this category—and I say this not knowing whether the PM’s lobbying effort had been previously programmed as part of T&T’s push for the secretariat.

But, it seems to me that the reasons for the trip by Mr Manning, who has stated his aversion to foreign travel on a number of occasions, go beyond FTAA lobbying.

There was the small matter of affirming T&T’s (and Caricom’s) support for the Chilean candidate for secretary general of Organisation of American States.

That support was clearly in return for Chile’s support of T&T as the location of the FTAA secretariat.

That’s the way 21 century diplomacy is done—you scratch my back, I scratch yours.

But there were also some strong commercial reasons for the trip, not least of which was the offer by the Prime Minister to sell T&T’s natural gas to energy-starved Chile.

Was it a coincidence that Manning’s offer to sell natural gas to Chile came on the very same day that the Chilean government reported that gas supplies from neighbouring Argentina were reduced to virtually zero?

One hardly thinks so.

Recall that the Chilean Foreign Minister visited T&T earlier this month, obviously with the intention of firming up mutual commitments and schedules.

But the fact that Mr Manning was on hand to make the offer on the same day that the Argentinian natural gas pipeline went dry, (figuratively speaking) certainly would have been very well received by Chile’s private sector.

As is now clear, before the Manning offer, Chile was facing the prospect of having to rely on more expensive, environmentally inferior fuel oil to operate its factories.

It seems to me, therefore, that Mr Manning has placed T&T firmly on the map, and in the hearts, of Chile’s private sector which is among the most successful in the hemisphere.

What it also means is that when Vemco’s Christian Mouttet, RBTT’s Lyndon Guiseppi, Republic Bank’s Gregory Thompson or CL Financial’s Andre Louis Monteil will find open doors in Santiago, Chile’s capital, when they go there looking to make deals. Even Sagicor’s David O’Brien may benefit, who knows.

If T&T begins to send natural gas to Chile, I would imagine that there are many products that Chile produces that they would like to sell us.

Trade missions to and from Chile would be on the cards as would be a direct air link (but not BWIA, eh) between Chile and T&T and the aforementioned direct investment by T&T businessmen. Can a T&T diplomatic mission in Chile be far behind?

Could Foreign Minister Knowlson Gift have made such an offer on behalf of the T&T Government and on behalf of Atlantic LNG in which the T&T Government has only a 10 per cent ownership stake?

One thinks not.

And this is the point that I was making in the October 14, 2004 edition of this newspaper when I wrote a piece headlined, “Commercial diplomacy important, too.”

As you would recall, my comment was in response to a letter from Minister Gift in which I was accused of being “misinformed” and reporting “without checking the facts” in a manner that was “erroneous.”

All because I had argued that T&T was under-represented at the inauguration of Dominican Republic President Hipolito Mejia.

As I wrote seven months ago, “I am in the camp of those who believe that T&T’s diplomatic initiatives must promote, among other things, the country’s commercial interests.”

I also suggested that “commercial diplomacy mandates that T&T should be seeking to advance its manufacturing, banking and energy interests in the DR (read Chile) at this time.”

Mr Manning, therefore, should be congratulated for the master-stroke of commercial diplomacy that this trip represents.

The Chilean success also promotes Mr Manning’s aim to position T&T as the leader among Caribbean nations, and himself as the de facto spokesman for Caricom.

It’s all good.

In the euphoria following the grand South American tour, let’s not forget that there is the small issue of some commercial agreements to be negotiated and signed between Atlantic LNG and the Chilean purchaser.

There is the small issue of the distance between T&T and Chile and whether the gas will go through the Panama canal.

And there is the always-thorny issue of the price of T&T’s natural gas linked to Henry Hub or the result of some fiction, like the deal with Jamaica.




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