BY SASHA MOHAMMED
A top local economist has warned that T&T would suffer tremendous revenue losses that will ultimately affect the livelihood of citizens if Prime Minister Patrick Manning were to sign the Petrocaribe oil deal.
Petrocaribe is the regional oil deal whereby Venezuela and (possibly) T&T would supply oil to Caricom member states at cheaper rates.
In the wake of Manning’s request for time to study the agreement at last week’s summit in Venezuela, economist Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir said this was a “wise move,” in that T&T stood to lose financially if it entered the agreement.
Mahabir also dismissed local and international reports that Manning’s decision not to sign the Petrocaribe deal was chiefly in response to pressure from the US government.
His statements came amid claims from Chavez and “high placed government sources,” according to a report in yesterday’s Guardian, that Manning backed out of the regional oil deal with Venezuela last week to avoid a fallout with the US government, T&T’s biggest energy trade partner.
Barbados PM Owen Arthur also did not sign the agreement, to which the 14 other member States of Caricom are signatories.
According to the agreement, Venezuela, the world’s fifth largest oil producer, has promised liberal financing for oil sales, to assist Jamaica in upgrading one of its oil refineries, and to accept bananas and sugar from the Caribbean islands as part of the payment for cheaper oil.
Major US political and finance analysts have said Petrocaribe was yet another attempt by Chavez to gain political support in the Latin American/Caribbean region, especially in light of outright opposition by the US to the popular Venezuelan leader’s domestic and foreign policies and open alliance with Cuba.
In dismissing these theories, Mahabir said while the US may be concerned with Venezuela’s increasing power in the region, at the end of the day, the superpower will recognise that Petrocaribe can, in fact, take the economic burden off its shoulders in developing the Caribbean region.
And as Manning continues to maintain his silence on the matter, his St Vincent counterpart, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who has signed on to the Petrocaribe deal, has endorsed the T&T PM’s position, saying while it is “a very good fiscal and trade agreement for St Vincent and the Grenadines and other islands,” this would not necessarily apply to T&T’s economy.
A regional deal closes
It was at a meeting in Montego Bay, Jamaica last August that regional energy ministers agreed in principle to the Petrocaribe deal to sell oil at cheaper rates to Caricom member states.
Then, the agreement called for the major oil-producing countries of the region, namely Venezuela and T&T, to aid in making available access to investment for upgrading refining capacities, establishing storage facilities and offering alternative transportation options due to the high cost of oil, which was having a debilitating effect on many Caribbean economies.
At last week’s much touted meeting in Puerto la Cruz, the agreement essentially stated that Petrocaribe would be “immediately created...as a body aimed at facilitating the development of energy policies and plans for the integration of the nations of the Caribbean through the sovereign use of natural energy resources to directly benefit their peoples.”
It noted that Petrocaribe, touted by Chavez as the region’s alternative to the beleaguered Free Trade Area of the Americas,
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