INTRA-REGIONAL ENERGY PROGRAMME PETRO-CARIBE IS GOOD FOR BARBADOS!
If we Barbadians are not careful, false pride and “poor-greatness” are going to be our un-doing! A case in point is the attitude of former Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Attorney General, Clyde Griffith, who recently dismissed the “Petro-Caribe Energy Cooperation Agreement” with the following smug declaration:-
“I can understand why the smaller countries in the Caribbean would want to have this kind of benefit where they don’t have to pay 100 per cent on delivery because most of these countries have serious foreign exchange issues… We have a stronger foreign exchange position than most of those countries and we can right now afford to pay for our oil imports.”
Mr. Griffith’s glib statement was made against the background of twelve (12) of Barbados’ fellow Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member-states being party to and deriving benefits from the Petro-Caribe Agreement. Indeed, the only CARICOM member countries that are NOT members of Petro-Caribe are the British dependency of Montserrat, oil-rich Trinidad&Tobago, and Barbados!
And so, as far as Mr. Griffith is concerned, while “smaller countries” like Jamaica, Guyana, Suriname, St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent might need the foreign exchange savings that Petro-Caribe offers, “big” and mighty Barbados has no such need!
I would, however, like to caution Mr. Griffith and all those who think like him to take cognisance of the fact that Barbados’ foreign exchange earnings have been in decline for the past seven years, and that our stock of foreign exchange is fast approaching the minimum threshold of twelve weeks of imports.
Well, permit me to state for the record that the Peoples Empowerment Party (PEP) is of the view that the single most meaningful and immediate measure that the Barbados Government can take at this time to combat the effects of the recession that our country finds itself in, is to sign on to the Petro-Caribe Agreement!
The concrete benefits that Barbados would derive from being a party to Petro-Caribe are as follows:-
(1) REDUCTION OF ANNUAL FOREIGN EXCHANGE EXPENDITURE
At present Barbados spends approximately US$400 Million on petroleum imports every year. Under the Petro-Caribe agreement, Barbados would be entitled to pay at least one-half of that bill through a barter arrangement that would be based on Barbados produced goods and services, rather than having to pay in US dollars or other hard currencies.
(2) STIMULATION OF BARBADIAN INDUSTRY, TRADE & EMPLOYMENT
If Barbados opts to exchange Barbadian produced goods and services for Venezuelan oil, Barbados could earmark such goods as Barbados produced sugar and rum, and such services as the provision of education for Venezuelan students at our tertiary institutions or the provision of hotel accommodation for Venezuelan tourists at our smaller, locally owned hotels. These arrangements would provide us with opportunities to drive the further development of these sectors , and to develop a tourism market in Venezuela.
(3) PROVISION OF A SOURCE OF CHEAP CREDIT FOR BARBADIAN ENTERPRISES
Approximately 50 per cent of the payments that Barbados will make under the Petro-Caribe Agreement would be placed in a so-called “Bi-lateral Fund”, and would be available to be borrowed by the Government of Barbados in the form of soft loans bearing interest rates of 4% to 6%. Thus, the Barbados Government would have a source of cheap credit that it could make available to Barbadian businesses that are desperately in need of such cheap credit.
(4) PROVISION OF A SOURCE OF GRANT FUNDING
There is also the possibility that Barbados could secure outright grants from the “Bi-lateral Fund” for deserving social-welfare projects. Furthermore , if Barbados joined, not only Petro-Caribe, but the “Bolivarian Alliance For Latin America & the Caribbean” (ALBA) as well, it would also have at its disposal the “ALBA / Caribe Fund” for additional grant funding.
(5) OPPORTUNITIES FOR DEVELOPING A RELATIONSHIP WITH LATIN AMERICA
Latin America is a vast , fast developing economic area on whose door-step Barbados is located. Barbados needs to perceive Latin America as a potential hinterland for which the Barbadian city-state can provide services and products. Involvement with Petro-Caribe will provide us with an avenue through which we can pursue such a developmental strategy.
It should also be noted that joining Petro-Caribe would not necessarily mean that Barbados has to terminate its petroleum trade relationship with Trinidad & Tobago. Rather, the Government of Barbados could maintain petroleum trading relationships with both Venezuela and Trinidad & Tobago, and could set about utilising both arrangements in accordance with what they adjudge to be the best interest of Barbados.
Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur is already on record as having indicated that he would have taken Barbados into Petro-Caribe if he had won the last General Election. If, in the midst of an intransigent recession, the present Government perversely and irrationally refuses to join Petro-Caribe, they will be judged extremely harshly by history!
- DAVID COMISSIONG
President, PEP & Clement Payne Movement