With a population 1.3 million, Trinidad and Tobago is among the largest in the Caribbean, and has an abundance of oil and natural gas. Given that the country is located in a region comprising of tiny islands devoid of natural resources, Trinidad and Tobago got lucky. Too lucky, it seems.
“We have been very comfortable with the fact that most of our revenue is generated by oil and gas. This can no longer be the case. We have to be more aggressive in terms of developing other revenue streams, so we are no longer dependent on these two commodities,” says Vasant Bharath, Trinidad and Tobago's minister of trade, industry and investment. Mr Bharath's words are backed up by the fact that oil and gas accounts for about 40% of the country's economic output, 80% of its exports, but employs only 5% of its total workforce.
“Oil and gas jobs are lucrative, but hard to come by, so quality opportunities for young professionals are limited,” says Jeff Pappas, principal of Cresa Dallas, a site selection consultancy based in the US. But for Mr Pappas and his clients, many of which are US companies looking to outsource some parts of their operations, opportunities are plenty. Trinidad and Tobago is home to 12 post-secondary educational institutions and each year sees approximately 5000 new graduates joining the country's workforce.
“Even if wages here increase 30%, it will still be below the wage cost of countries such as Costa Rica and Panama. And on the top of that, people here speak with neutral English accent and are highly educated. That is exactly what clients interested in business process outsourcing [BPO] are looking for,” says Mr Pappas.
Apart from BPO, Mr Bharath says the country's strategy for attracting FDI revolves around maritime sector, creative industries, downstream energy and food processing. “We took a long, hard look at the situation about a year and half ago and decided that we want to focus on the sectors in which we are either competitive already or we might be in the near future,” says Mr Bharath.
In order to catalyse the country's FDI push, in 2011 the government established InvesTT Trinidad and Tobago, a national investment promotion agency. Since its inception, InvesTT has been aiming to reduce the amount of red tape investors have to deal with when coming to the country. The agency estimates that in 2012 it secured $105.5m-worth of investments, which created 200 jobs.
Kelvin Mahabir, the president of InvesTT is bullish over the investment agency's ability to generate leads and turn them into projects, but also that once an investor chooses his country, Trinidad and Tobago can more than meet these expectations.
“Competence takes many years to develop and we have had been extracting oil for more than 100 years and gas for over 50. What we have is not just people who are educated, but who are also competent and have proved that their skills can be applied in our sectors. I think that is what differentiates us from many countries in the region,” says Mr Mahabir.
So when it comes to 'natural resources', it seems that Trinidad and Tobago's workforce could prove to be as attractive to investors as its oil and gas reserves.