Trinidad has estimated US$10bn to ride out financial crisis

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, October 30, 2008 – The Trinidad and Tobago government has an estimated US$10 billion that it can use to ride out the global economic downturn for the next eight to 10 months if it has to. 

That assessment came from Dr. Ronald Ramkissoon, senior economist at Republic Bank Ltd. in Trinidad and Tobago, as he contributed to a panel discussion on the cause and effects of the United States financial crisis during Wednesday’s national private/public sector economic consultation by the government of Barbados.

Speaking at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre (formerly the Sherbourne Conference Centre) on the outskirts of the capital, Dr. Ramkissoon assured the audience of senior government officials, civil servants, trade unionists and business people that, despite Trinidad’s fortunes being so closely tied to the price of oil on the world market, the country had built up enough reserves during the boom period to provide it with substantial reserves during the downturn.

Dr. Ramkissoon said the twin-island republic had US$8 billion in reserves, which would provide it with import cover for the next eight to 10 months, while another US$2 billion was held in the heritage and stabilisation fund that is built up by oil revenues.

Furthermore, the senior banking official told the large gathering that Trinidad was currently experiencing “full employment” (which, he explained, in that country’s case means an unemployment rate of below 5%); real economic growth running at around an average of 5% over the last few years; and an external debt service ratio of approximately 5% of gross domestic product. These, Ramkissoon said, were all “strengths” that would see the country well into 2009 and, although the next year or two would be “difficult” they were “not without hope or potential”.

Dr. Ramkissoon also said that, despite the recent tumble in prices of oil commodities to half of what they were a year ago, the oil producing nation would survive because the demand for fossil fuels would continue for many years despite the ongoing thrust toward sourcing energy from renewables by some developed and developing nations.

He added that now was the time for Caribbean economies to be “careful” but not “dwell on the negatives” and he praised the Barbados government for using the national consultation on the issue as a “non-market instrument” that would help that island ride out the crisis as well.