We have an estimated eight years of gas and oil. Excuse me, based on the two recent finds, this upped the ante by ten per cent, so we now have 8.8 years of gas and oil. How much longer do you think we can continue to sustain our large governmental expenditure—government salaries to public servants, gas subsidies, GATE payments, etc—on severely-depleting resources? Additionally, with the new fracking drilling processes they have come up with, they have now discovered new finds of oil and gas in Canada, Mexico and United States, amongst other countries, which would mean within the next four to five years, the US will be a net exporter of oil and gas. One big market for our gas disappears, but the bigger threat is that our whole downstream industry—urea, methanol, ammonia, etc—will just disappear and relocate to the US where the price of oil and gas as an input to their production process will be much cheaper than it is in T&T.
So we have diminishing gas and oil resources, as well as increasing competition for these wasting supplies…what do we do? Clearly, trying to produce more gas and oil is a good short-term measure, but will not solve our long-term problem. Our economy is dependent on gas and oil and has to add other business models which will bring in several additional sources of revenue. Now don’t get me wrong: the private sector is every bit as guilty as the Government in being dependent on the gas/oil sector. How many of them derive more than 50 per cent of their revenue from a foreign source? If you exclude the energy-sector companies, they won’t be more than ten per cent. However, we are a very creative people in T&T and can find many solutions.
Here is what I would recommend:
• Shipbuilding: With the opening up of the enlarged Panama Canal, this would increase the ship cargo passing our shores by at least 30 per cent. All the best ship-berthing facilities are in the Far East. Etienne Mendes has a proposal with all his external funding. This repair work will bring in revenue of US$2 billion per year and employ 2,000 people on completion.
• Cocoa cultivation: T&T has some of the highest grades of cocoa in the world. We currently produce about 700 tonnes per year. However, we have requests from Swiss chocolatiers for 36,000 tonnes. At the current prices of the cocoa bean, this can bring in significant revenues while also employing possibly an additional 25,000 people.
• Contact centres: In Jamaica, they have about ten contact centres who take trouble and other answering service-type calls for US companies. They employ at least 10,000 people and are all foreign-revenue earners. Additionally, we can also have other upscale contact centres that provide such services as transcribing medical prescriptions for hospitals, as well as engineers who troubleshoot for US information technology companies.
• Redirect our tourism thrust away from the blue waters and white sandy beaches, which is not our strength. Instead, focus on events tourism.
This would include having a featured event every month, such as Phagwa one month, Carnival, Divali, Point Fortin J’Ouvert, Eid-ul-Fitr, Tobago Carnival, etc. This would also include tours to geographical areas of interest, such as turtle beaches, the Caroni Bird Sanctuary, the Waterloo Temple by the Sea, the Pitch Lake, even throw in Ariapita Avenue as the south beach of the Caribbean. Then tie this in to our heritige sites, such as Carrera Island, Admiral Perry’s grave, etc. This would attract a whole genre of tourists: the Germans, French and Italians who like these kinds of experiences. It’s all foreign revenue-based and will create thousands of local jobs. Whatever options we choose, I agree with Minister Vasant Bharath’s article when he said we have to diversify our economy and do it quickly.