Every time that there are concerns expressed about the future of the oil, gas and petrochemical sectors in Trinidad and Tobago, there are responding calls for the diversification of the economy. These calls are understandable and appropriate, and fully supported by the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago (Energy Chamber). The Energy Chamber views economic diversification as a fundamental issue for our economy and especially the diversification of our exports. As a small open economy, Trinidad and Tobago needs to earn foreign exchange in order to survive and we can no longer rely upon exporting just a handful of energy related commodities.
The Energy Chamber’s strategic focus has been on the development of service export markets, and in particular, energy service exports. For more than a decade, this issue has been at the forefront of the Energy Chamber’s agenda and we have advocated for both policy changes to support service exports and directly helped our member companies access export markets, primarily through outgoing trade missions. We continue to believe that energy service exports have a key role to play in the diversification of our exports: this is a high-value sector based on knowledge, skills and expertise, and should be a key focus for diversification policies.
The unprecedented exploration success and the fast-track development of massive oil reserves in neighbouring Guyana offers an important new potential market for Trinidad and Tobago energy service exports. In Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago companies have advantages of proximity and being part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy, but we are also competing against service exports from everywhere in the world. The global energy service industry is eyeing opportunities in Guyana and many of them have trade officers in their respective embassies working overtime to help them access the new market.
Under the stewardship of Terry Farrell, the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) had identified energy services, in particular, engineering-related energy services, as one of the key focus areas. In 2015 and 2016, the EDAB had conducted a detailed foresighting process around this sub-sector, with support from a team from Cambridge University. It is important that the good work undertaken by the EDAB is not lost and that it can be used to guide government policy.
One of the key issues that we have faced in promoting the export of energy services is a level of uncertainty within government about which institution should be promoting energy service exports. The Ministry of Trade and Industry typically focuses on manufactured goods exports and has traditionally not placed much emphasis on, nor resources behind, energy service exports. The Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries has the Permanent Local Content Committee under its portfolio and is the lead ministry for the technical cooperation memorandum of understanding with Guyana, but traditionally its role has been to attract major foreign investment into the energy sector and to regulate the operator companies, rather than promote energy service exports.
Government support for diversification through energy service exports is therefore patchy. Individual ministers and technocrats have sometimes been champions for the export drive, but this has not been institutionalised and sustained. It is notable that at this year’s Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston (the world’s biggest oil and gas expo), the Government of Guyana funded a booth where their emerging energy service companies and support agencies could promote their sector. There has never been a government-funded Trinidad and Tobago booth at OTC, though there was a private sector initiative in the early 2000s. This is the sort of support that our local service industry needs if we are to promote diversification through energy service exports. Our competitors all use events like OTC to promote their local service sectors and a similar initiative from Trinidad and Tobago is long overdue.