The politely co-operative relationship that this county has had with Guyana fundamentally changed after the discovery of a significant Guyanese resource of petrochemicals, estimated in October 2021 by ExxonMobil to be more than ten billion barrels of oil equivalent.
Bundled with discoveries in Suriname's adjoining waters, the joint fields might prove to be the last major mega-basin find for oil and gas, dramatically changing the fortunes of both nations.
It's time for the relationship between Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago to evolve.
Guyana's President, Dr Mohammed Irfaan Ali, is already planning to use the revenue bonanza to create a diversified economy, using strategies that benefit from his country's experiences with decades of resource extraction, which created dangerous and destructive swaths of pollution through poorly regulated mining and logging in the interior of the country.
In the midst of this evolution from economic underdog to petroleum superpower, Guyana's people have not forgotten the snubs of the past: from the casual but official dismissal of the plight of in-transit Guyanese passengers who were routinely required to undergo security rescreening, to the recent lapse by First Citizens Bank in March, when the bank neglected to tell Guyana's Central Bank that it was buying Scotiabank's assets in the country. Since First Citizens does not have a licence to operate in Guyana, the announcement in the TT press raised both eyebrows and ire.
The TT energy sector has been actively courting Guyana’s government since the oil discovery, yet a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on energy co-operation between TT and Guyana signed in 2019 went a year without action.
Why did it take an outcry from the Georgetown Chamber of Industry and Commerce to begin mobilising thinking at the highest levels of governance about improving trade and capacity-building between TT and Guyana?
Why did Dr Amery Browne choose to respond to the admittedly intemperate comments by Guyana's Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo about TT by describing them as "arrogant, hostile and xenophobic”?
Dr Ali is approaching the potential windfall with a commonsense appreciation of its place in Guyana's history and the overall arc of the global energy sector. He is talking about improving food production, sustainable forestry and refreshing the approach to mining the country's mineral reserves.
Guyana's president is looking to the Caribbean region for opportunities and partners, but TT cannot assume that because we are next door we are favoured. Far from it.
There is much in the TT experience in petroleum extraction that might inform the Guyanese experience, both in our successes and failures, but moving forward clearly demands greater sensitivity and empathy with Guyana than it has experienced from this country previously.
Guyana has a sovereign right to choose its trade and business partners. TT has more to do to make itself an attractive alternative.