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Cablegate: Pm Manning Reiterates Tt's Position On Petrocaribe

VZCZCXRO5062
PP RUEHGR
DE RUEHSP #0006/01 0041908
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 041908Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY PORT OF SPAIN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8895
INFO RUCNCOM/EC CARICOM COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 3739
RHMCSUU/DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PORT OF SPAIN 000006

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CAR, WHA/EPSC, EEB/IEC, ENERGY FOR OFFICE OF
POLICY AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ENRG EPET PREL VE TT
SUBJECT: PM MANNING REITERATES TT'S POSITION ON PETROCARIBE
AND ALBA


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED; PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY

1. (SBU) Summary: Prime Minister Patrick Manning reiterated
January 2 that Trinidad and Tobago is unlikely to become
fully involved in PetroCaribe, and continues to prefer the
Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) to Hugo Chavez'
Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). This was in
response to a broad statement made by Chavez at the recent
Fourth PetroCaribe Summit in Cienfuegos, Cuba that he wanted
TT to become "fully involved" in PetroCaribe. Antigua and
Barbuda PM Baldwin Spencer reportedly also insisted at the
summit that TT's role in regional energy security be
acknowledged. TT was represented at the Summit by its
Ambassador to Caracas, Yvonne Gittens-Joseph, who said only
that a dialogue between TT and Venezuela on the topic would
be useful. Meanwhile, TT's bilateral energy cooperation
proposals to Venezuela remain on hold, according to PM
Manning because of the opposition of Venezuela's Energy
Minister, Rafael Ramirez. End Summary.

TT Non-Committal to Chavez' Suggestion
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (U) At the Fourth PetroCaribe Summit in Cuba in late
December, Hugo Chavez reportedly stated that he wanted TT to
become "fully involved" in PetroCaribe, without offering any
further elaboration. Earlier, on December 21, Antiguan PM
Baldwin Spencer had also stated that TT should have a role in
PetroCaribe, given its vital contribution to Caricom member
states as well as the ongoing work of the Caricom Energy Task
Force. TT's representative to the Summit, its Ambassador to
Caracas Yvonne Gittens-Joseph, made a non-committal reply
that dialogue between Venezuela and TT would be useful, and
TT's Energy Minister Conrad Enill said December 28 that TT as
yet had no official position on Chavez' suggestion. TT, a
traditional supplier of oil and natural gas to Caricom
countries, is the only Caricom member state besides Barbados
not to have signed on to PetroCaribe.

Prime Minister Manning Comments
-------------------------------------------

3. (U) According to a report in the business section of the
January 3 Daily Express, PM Manning made some remarks after
touring the newly completed Hyatt Regency Hotel, during which
he said that a bilateral agreement between TT and Venezuela
on energy cooperation was on hold, specifically, that a
proposal by TT to develop natural gas production from a field
that straddles the two nations' maritime boundaries was being
held up by the opposition of Venezuelan Energy Minister
Rafael Ramirez. Manning added that Hugo Chavez was supposed
to have visited TT within a month after the last round of
talks, which took place in Caracas in March 2007, but had
never come, thus "the ball is by no means in the court of
Trinidad and Tobago."

Doubts about ALBA
--------------------------

4. (U) Manning further commented that the PetroCaribe
arrangement was part of a larger push by Chavez to compete
with the established Western Hemisphere system, specifically,
that Chavez was pushing the Bolivarian Alternative for the
Americas (ALBA) as a rival to the FTAA. Noting that TT had
lobbied its Caricom colleagues to make Port of Spain the
headquarters of the FTAA, Manning broadly implied that
signing on to PetroCaribe would also implicitly endorse ALBA,
which would be directly contradictory to his support for
FTAA. By his comments, Manning indicated that there had been
no fundamental change in TT's positions on PetroCaribe and
ALBA.

TT Leery of PetroCaribe
------------------------------

5. (SBU) TT, a traditional supplier of gas and petroleum
products to other Caricom member states, has never been
particularly enthusiastic about PetroCaribe, which allows
participating Caricom states to defer payment of 40 percent
of their oil bill for 25 years at 1 percent interest. TT
reportedly informed a number of its neighbors that if they
stopped buying refined products from TT that TT would find
alternate customers, and could no longer guarantee regional
energy security.

PORT OF SP 00000006 002 OF 002

Previous Chill Continues
------------------------------

6. (SBU) TT and Venezuela have been unable to reach agreement
on a number of energy-related issues. In private, PM Manning
told USG visitors in 2006 that TT would like to refine more
Venezuelan crude oil at its refinery, but Chavez was
apparently not interested in doing so. When the PM was in
Caracas in March of 2007, he was very upbeat about the
prospects for energy cooperation. However, when he declined
to endorse ALBA at a press conference following the round of
talks, his invitation to an energy conference of South
American nations on Margarita Island was abruptly rescinded
on the pretext that an invitation to a non-South American
country had to be unanimously approved, and that his had not
been approved. Comment: Manning's lack of enthusias for
ALBA also appears to have soured the prospets for further
energy cooperation. End Comment.

7. (U) TT had been hoping to find a way to begi exploiting
an undersea gas field that straddles he maritime boundary
between itself and Venezuel. Venezuela lacks the
infrastructure to processand liquefy natural gas itself, and
is likely tohave difficulty finding investors even if it
decides to construct the necessary facilities and
infrastructure in the future. Manning's offer of technical
assistance to help Venezuela establish LNG capability, while
in the meantime processing Venezuela's share of the gas in
TT, appears not to have been well received in Caracas.


Balancing Act
-----------------

8. (SBU) Comment: TT has traditionally been careful not to
needlessly irk or irritate its powerful neighbor, but has
also worked at keeping a wary distance from getting roped
into selling oil and gas to Caricom partners at a discount,
preferring instead to contribute to a Caricom Petroleum Fund
from which its partners can draw to finance social programs.
Baldwin Spencer's remarks suggest that TT's Caricom partners
are less irritated with TT's unwillingness to match
PetroCaribe terms and, perhaps, more cognizant of the risk of
putting all of their energy security eggs into one basket.
In turn, Manning's views on PetroCaribe have not changed, and
he appears skeptical that Chavez' overture at the PetroCaribe
summit in Cuba would lead to any tangible progress on his
energy agenda with Venezuela. End Comment.
AUSTIN

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