T&T to Europe
Minister Ken Valley addresses participants at Frankfurt business
Soccer was the unlikely starting point for a just completed
Trinidadian investment mission to Ireland, Spain, Germany,
France and the United Kingdom.
While the outcome is of interest, more thought-provoking are
the implications for the region of the republics strategic
The footballing connection came, of course, from the international
profile provided by the Soca Warriors during the recent football
World Cup in Germany. It seems that the interest the team
aroused, led to a decision in Port-of-Spain to capitalise
by promoting the republic as a destination for investments
in the planned high technology and the downstream industries
that flow from Trinidads role as a major energy producer
and financial centre.
The emphasis during the visit was on diversification. Presentations
focused on opportunities in petrochemicals, food and beverages,
film, music and entertainment, printing and packaging, yachting
and the merchant marine as well as on fish and fish processing,
pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, hotel development and information
While it is always difficult to measure the success of such
visits, Ken Valley, T&Ts Minister of Trade and Industry,
who led the trade team, was by the end of the delegations
European tour able to point to significant progress.
There was a bilateral investment treaty with Germany and the
establishment of relationships in Spain that will lead to
a more substantive Spanish diplomatic and business presence
in Port-of-Spain. This is in line with Madrids decision
to deepen its relations with the Anglophone Caribbean.
The minister was also able to point to the possible creation
of a bilateral investment treaty with Ireland and a commitment
for an Irish trade mission to visit in early 2007 to discuss
The minister was also able to address the many hundreds of
leading businessmen and women who attended events across Europe.
But in the longer term what may prove to be more important
were the inferred messages the delegation as a whole were
able to convey and the strategic implications these carry
for much of the rest of the region.
The first was that Trinidad is unlike any other Caribbean
nation. Even though it has just 1.3 million people, it is
a major global player because of its gas and oil reserves
and the stable investment relationships it has developed with
some of the worlds major energy companies. As such it
is taken very seriously indeed by governments and investors
in Europe and elsewhere.
The second message is that Trinidad has a strategic vision.
It is seeking economic integration with Latin America as an
energy-based manufacturing and high technology hub. This future
embraces its neighbours in the OECS states and Guyana and
envisages the republic playing an ever greater role in their
economic development, in part because of Trinidads limited
The third is that while its relationship with the US as its
major supplier of liquefied natural gas remains, the relationship
with Venezuela is set to develop if Caracas is able to reach
an agreement with Port-of-Spain on the commercialisation of
Venezuelan gas reserves.
Trinidad as an energy producer sees value in the decision
by Venezuelas President, Hugo Chavez, to create new
global alliances with nations such as Iran if this rekindles
US engagement with the hemisphere in a realistic and practical
way that respects the diversity of markets and the national
sovereignty of all.
Fourthly, Trinidad faces an acute human resources problem.
While it will continue to place emphasis on encouraging nationals
to return to participate in the vast array of new industries
that it is promoting and will continue to focus on expanding
its universities and tertiary education system, it simply
does not have enough people.
The implication here is that a decision has to be made about
how new industries can be developed. The challenge for the
Government and the Trinidadian capital market is to finance
production sharing operations in the Eastern Caribbean and
Guyana in a manner that causes governments in the nations
concerned, and perhaps more importantly their electorates,
to feel comfortable.
The fifth is that in the area of trade policy. Trinidad continues
to regard a free trade agreement with the US in the context
of the moribund Free Trade Area of the Americas as essential
but in the interim sees an asymmetrical Caricom-US free trade
arrangement as desirable. This is not the way that others
in the region see their priorities nor for that matter is
it how a largely Caribbean-disinterested Washington sees future
US relations with the region.
Sixthly, Trinidads well-capitalised and under-leveraged
financial sector, through its commercial and merchant banks,
has moved out across the Caribbean and into the international
capital markets and is set to expand investment portfolios
across the hemisphere. This suggests that the republic will
not only continue to prosper but that Trinidads companies
are set to become hemispheric and possibly even global players
with a broad portfolio of assets.
And the seventh inferred message is that energy will continue
to underwrite development and Trinidads government.
The major energy companies have ongoing plans to drill for
gas at ever greater depths in concessions they hold or are
intending to acquire. They see themselves as long-term partners
in the Trinidad economy and are confident of finding significantly
more in the way of recoverable reserves.
They are doing so against a background of high energy prices
that they see continuing into the foreseeable future.
Trinidads desire to be a developed economy, become the
financial centre of the Greater Caribbean, enter into free
trade agreements across the hemisphere and for its companies
to acquire an ever increasing variety of assets suggest opportunities
no other Caribbean nation has.
It implies that as the republic moves forward with its plans,
great sensitivity will be required if the regional integration
process is not to become unbalanced or seen to favour one
nations development and interests over those of many
It also suggests the vital importance of trying to approximate
levels of development between the regions less developed
and more developed economies through a properly applied regional
development fund if the Caribbean Single Market and Economy
(CSME) is not to be rent apart by economic imbalance.
Trinidad will soon be taking a similar mission to China, India
and Japan. In Europe its confidence about its future, despite
unspoken concerns about its internal security, was infectious.
This may not be an entirely comforting message in those parts
of Caricom where inter-regional historic and cultural enmities
David Jessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council and
can be contacted at [email protected]