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Wednesday 26 September 2018
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Investment or assets sale?

Government should state clearly the nature and extent of the planned Indian investment in Trinidad and Tobago, which it is trumpeting, and whether this relates to the setting up of entirely new businesses or whether it will be the acquisition, wholly or largely, of State-owned and other existing companies.

Will it be a case of investment of Indian capital and expertise in wholly new projects which will serve to further expand the process of development of Trinidad and Tobago and create additional employment, revenue and foreign exchange earnings? Or will it be as hinted above the acquisition of assets of existing and already profitable State-owned or controlled enterprises?

If it the latter, then such a strategy, as short sighted as it is meaningless as far as Trinidad and Tobago’s interests are concerned, will be profitable only to the Indian investors. If Indian or any other businessmen with to invest in this country, it should be an investment of assets and expertise designed to stimulate economic growth in Trinidad and Tobago. Or is the People’s Partnership Government going to sell off some of the nation’s assets as was done several years ago, admittedly on a restricted basis, in the case of ISPAT?

Does the present administration plan to sell to already in waiting Indian investors such highly profitable assets as First Citizens Bank and the National Gas Company and later any interests it may have or acquire in the Republic Bank and methanol? Incidentally, Trinidad and Tobago is the world’s largest exporter of methanol, a cyclical industry whose international sales long before the end of this decade are expected to be in the billions of dollars, annually, for a considerable period.

This Column would be among the first to welcome Indian, indeed any new investment whose plan it was to generate balanced growth. But the country should not be in the business of literally transferring already highly profitable assets under the guise of attracting investment. What should be clearly understood and this Column would be prepared to repeat it until the setting of the sun, is that Trinidad and Tobago’s energy based economy is today faced with the grim reality of rapidly declining crude oil and natural gas reserves.

If we should argue that the relatively short time given for the running out of proven crude and gas reserves would be extended by the discovery of new, but as yet unproven reserves, nonetheless we have to be realistic and appreciate that even unproven reserves will, in all probability, be history before the end of the century. In the meantime, Government’s long announced policy of diversification of the economy should be aggressively pursued. The demands of regional and international markets should be closely examined.

Any wooing of investors, with the emphasis on meaningful wooing, should recognise this. In turn, there should be a study made both of available skills and the need to expand existing skills in a bid to satisfy market demands. Government should invest in the training and development of skilled personnel, while at the same time offering inducements to individuals willing to be trained. In addition, it should consider expanding its on the job training programmes.With respect to the issue of training, Trinidad and Tobago could perhaps tap into the Indian skills market for further development of the country’s skills basin.

Meanwhile, what has been and is being done since the establishment of the 33-nation Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to stimulate the economic development of the countries of the region.

While, understandably, the setting up of CELAC is relatively new, nevertheless early action should be taken with respect to attracting investment from within the region and developing a policy of export based growth. The issue of export based growth was dealt with in an earlier Column.

Returning to the issue of Indian and other investment, the People’s Partnership Government should introduce legislation which would make it mandatory that all new investment in Trinidad and Tobago should be at least 51 percent owned by resident nationals or by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and resident nationals of the country. Too great a share of the profits earned by companies in Trinidad and Tobago, with specific reference to corporations registered overseas, remain overseas with a resulting loss of revenue (including corporation tax) and foreign exchange earnings.

It is an unfortunate by-product of our colonial past and needs to be changed and quickly. Any industry which is 51 percent owned, nationally, will be registered in Trinidad and Tobago with a full taxing of the profits taking place here with optimum benefits to this country. It is time that we adopted the Singaporean model of development and consign the old system, which has worked and continues to work against us, to the dustbin of history.

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