harm than good in PMs Alcoa message
announcing that the Government would immediately discontinue
all plans to establish an industrial estate in Chatham,
Prime Minister Patrick Manning seems to have gambled on attempting
to protect his short-term political future rather than the
nations long-term economic future.
The measure, aimed at resolving a perceived problem with Alcoa,
may in fact backfire to the detriment of T&Ts national
In his Christmas address to the nation, the Prime Minister
said that the Government took significant steps to generate
a whole new wave of business activity in T&T which
will mean new wealth, more jobs, greater security and
continuing improvement of the lives of our people.
It was part of the Governments thinking that in introducing
the new industrialisation, T&T would go further
downstream in the use of its natural gas than had previously
been the case. This would mean, as the Prime Minister clearly
understood and as he outlined in his address, new jobs and
wealth for the country.
Another rationale behind the Governments drive to introduce
the new industrialisation to T&T is that the
country would take advantage of its natural gas to leverage
the establishment of industries here, which are being driven
out of developed countries because of the higher cost of energy.
These industries include steel, plastics, petrochemicals and
aluminiumall of which are likely to remain in strong
demand throughout the world in the foreseeable future.
The Prime Minister made it clear in the address that the aluminium
industry was of great strategic importance to
the implementation of what he had called previously the modern
Having established the rationale for the modern industrial
state and aluminiums importance in it, the Prime Minister
said the symposium on the aluminium smelters held earlier
this month had concluded that the two proposed aluminium
smelters present no unmanageable threat either to the environment
or the health of the population.
The Government was now able to arrive at conclusions
based on the symposium, said the Prime Minister, immediately
followed by the announcement that the Government had decided
to discontinue the establishment of an industrial estate in
Chatham and would instead accelerate development of
a new industrial estate offshore at Otaheite Bank from which
aluminium production can now be pursued together with other
Having dismissed health and environmental explanations for
the decision, (and not having mentioned the more important
economic factors) the only conclusion which can be drawn is
that the Prime Minister decided that Alcoa was expendablegiven
the furore caused by the US companys proposal to establish
a 341,000-tonne smelter in Chatham.
The Prime Minister seems to have concluded that blanking the
Alcoa proposal, while allowing the Alutrint facility to continue,
was politically expedient as T&T moves into an election
The expectation is that this concession to the views expressed
at the symposium would defuse the political heat that was
focused on Alcoa.
It is clear from the reactions of the anti-smelter activists,
reported in todays newspaper, that the Prime Ministers
calculation is not likely to be realised.
If anything, the proposal to build a new industrial estate
at the Otaheite Bank would attract an even greater environmental
backlash than the proposal to build at Chatham as the former
will need extensive land reclamation in an area with an unstable
It is also likely that Alcoa will view the offer of the new
site as nothing more than T&T showing the US$36 billion
company the door and asking it to leave.
In his address, the Prime Minister said T&Ts ability
to attract a pipeline of US$8 billion in investment in the
last five years spoke volumes for the countrys positive
international reputation with foreign investors.
It may be that the voice that existing and prospective investors
hear from T&T would not be a message that enforces T&Ts
reputation but one that speaks of prevarication, lack of support
for investors, discourtesy and political expediency.
This message may do tremendous unseen future damage to this
countrys reputation as an investor-friendly country.