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Petrotrin’s woes a warning for all

The latest development with Petrotrin is that it says due to higher capital costs and threats from reduced margins, it needs to sell its refinery products at US$9, but can get only US$6.60—a shortfall of 26 per cent (Business Express, December 25).
What impact do you think these reduced margins will have on its ability to employ its current employees? What about all the “support” companies for whom Petrotrin is their major customer, what happens to their business and their employees? Additionally, Petrotrin is either the third or fourth largest contributor to the Treasury. What happens when its payments to Central Government fall short? What happens to the URP and CEPEP programmes, Government employees, CDAP programmes, payments to pensioners. etc?
Do you think that because we are doing more drilling currently this will save us? Is this a short-term or long-term solution?
Shouldn’t we instead be seriously be looking at all the viable options for diversifying our economy, where we get to the point where our economy is based on four legs (legs being types of businesses which generate their own foreign exchange). This way, if there is a shortfall in any one area it doesn’t torpedo our economy, as may currently occur with Petrotrin.
Coming up with these “four legs” to better support our economy will take sustained and dedicated effort, the kind of effort that went into the 2020 Vision Statement. Several key sectors have to be stakeholders in the process. This process may take a year or two to hammer out, then maybe three years to implement. This is not a sprint, it is a marathon. The Petrotrin situation shows us we need to start now; do not procrastinate any further.
Some of my recommendations for these “four legs” are:

• A ship repair facility. With the opening up of the Panama Canal in 2015 and with a huge increase in the volume of cargo flowing through this canal, if we have a viable ship-repair facility here then ship owners, rather than going to Far East facilities, would have a much faster turnaround time in getting their vessels serviced and back to earning income.

• Medical tourism. Given the new “Obamacare” insurance in the US, the cost of medical care for the middle- and higher-income bands in the US will increase. This represents an opportunity for us to create joint ventures with American doctors to perform surgeries in T&T, with new hospitals dedicated to serving this US clientele.

• Chocolate sector: T&T currently exports about 600 tonnes of chocolate per year. European choco­latiers say if we can produce 36,000 tonnes per year they would purchase all. This is a huge demand, and I am sure we can find a way to get these European chocolatiers to inject some of the funding necessary to get our cocoa estates going.

• Knowledge-based sector. There is already the International Finance Corporation initiative being undertaken by the Government, which is good, but this process needs to be driven deeper and faster; eg, medical transcriptionists, engineering help desks.

The bottom line is unless we get out of our comfort zone with our continued dependence on the oil and energy sectors—which Petrotrin is currently showing is under threat—we will end up with serious financial problems as a country. Just look at what has happened to Barbados with its once-envied tourism industry. They did not take the time to diversify their economy and are now forced to fire 3,000 public servants.
And, all key players—business sector, unions, government—have to take responsibility for this change... none of this passing-the-buck nonsense. The boat called T&T will fall or rise with the single economic tide. We have to stop our economic immaturity and get this change started.
Do you prefer to get fired or to be prosperous?
Roger Gordon
via e-mail
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