Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 23rd 2015 Contents BG10 FEEDBACK
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt JULY 23 • 2015
Iread with dismay, but not surprise,
the story by Yvonne Baboolal on the
demise of the sugar industry in T&T
and the impact of that demise on
sugar workers who were mostly from
central and south Trinidad and, of
course, mostly Indo-Trinidadians.
Your reporter's interlocutors seek to give
a political dimension to what was funda-
mentally an economic issue, suggesting that
the closure of the sugar industry was a "polit-
ically motivated conspiracy."
The sugar industry here had been unviable
and uneconomic for decades going back to
the post World War II period. It was propped
up first by the Commonwealth Sugar Agree-
ment and when Britain entered the European
Economic Community by European subsidies.
Cheaper sugar from places like Cuba plus the
decline in consumption meant that high cost
producers in the West Indies had to go out
of business. Tate and Lyle exited this country
in 1975 and the Government, anxious to avoid
the collapse of the industry, bought out Tate
and Lyle and created Caroni (1975) Ltd, con-
solidating the estates and factories then exist-
ing. This, too, was doomed to failure.
Commissions were appointed led by John
Spence and Winston Dookeran, looking at
bagasse, looking at alternative use of cane
lands, looking desperately for a way to salvage
It took us 25 years and massive government
subsidies to prop up employment in an indus-
try that was effectively dead. It was not killed
by politics or ethnic considerations. It was
killed by economics! And if we did not have
oil revenues to prop it up all those years, it
would have died sooner.
If politics or ethnic considerations killed
sugar in Trinidad, what killed it in Barbados,
in St Kitts, in Jamaica, in St Lucia? What
killed the banana industry in the Eastern
What killed the auto and other assembly
industries in Trinidad which employed thou-
sands in the East-West corridor? Politics?
What killed the motor industry in Detroit
which employed many American blacks? Pol-
Economics kills industries which are no
longer viable. That is why there are no more
companies producing buggy whips, Polaroid
cameras, Kodak film and soon desktop com-
puters. It is governments which prolong the
lives of dead and dying industries at great
cost to taxpayers.
We kept sugar on life support for 25 years
because politicians were afraid to bite the
bullet, concerned as they were about whether
it would appear to be discriminatory. The
acid test for those who still believe that sugar
is a viable business is to take their own money,
not taxpayers's money, and invest it in sugar.
The economic history of this country needs
to be better understood and interpreted by
journalists, politicians and the general public.
As a caring society we do need to ease the
adjustment and the trauma of those affected
by dying industries and transition them to
alternatives where these exist.
But we also need to understand that the
laws of Economics is inexorable and will even-
tually trump politics.
Terrence W Farrell
The Minister of Tertiary Education
and Skills Training, Fazal Karim,
said at the launch of the Welding
Academy at MIC that there is a
need for a study to examine
whether T&T is getting a good return on its
He sees that there is an excess of supply
on the market of people (including university
graduates) who would have pursued GATE
programmes and are unable to access jobs.
The minister's solution is to have these grad-
uates retrained in vocational programmes that
would strengthen their marketability to enter
the current workplace.
One of the vocations in question seems to
be welding where there is a demand for such
skills in the market.
The minister's view of the excess is cor-
roborated by the IDB's report which showed
that some 79 per cent of the region's graduate
workforce emigrates; the local economy has
no use for these people, their latent professional
Prof Patrick Watson also demonstrated that
instead of these graduates driving economic
development, it is otherwise; growth in the
economy allows the education of new and
Interestingly, the new vice chancellor of
UWI has, in his strategic plan, the expansion
of UWI's output of graduates into the region's
These comments confirm that the education
and training of our graduate workforce do not
contribute to economic development and
according to the Minister we are probably not
making a proper rate of return on our expen-
diture in GATE. His solution is more training
and retraining in vocational skills, more crafts-
My advice to the minister would be to raise
his eyes above what our current challenged
economy requires---one that depends exclu-
sively on rents from the energy sector, one in
crisis, which is facing both a depletion of the
resource, the threat of shale gas and oil and
the new finds in the world---to the recon-
struction of our economy.
To build such a new economy, to diversify,
we need a highly skilled workforce that can
acquire modern technologies, knowledge,
implement them and invent/innovate in them.
In so doing the economy will be able to produce
the badly needed globally competitive tradables
with an on-shore spin-off of similarly com-
The minister must be aware that craftsmen,
though they can support some of these envi-
sioned companies, cannot drive the innovation
in business systems/technologies required to
diversify the economy.
We need to engage our graduates in becom-
ing advanced and specialised professionals
locally, something the current economy is fail-
ing to do.
Instead of training more welders, machinists,
construction workers because of this market
failure, the minister should be looking at cre-
ating a government driven innovation system
(as recommended by many eminent econo-
mists and as done in many countries) that
can absorb our professional graduates into a
system that can use and create knowledge and
so build globally competitive firms.
The literature abounds with the general the-
ories of such economic reconstructions with
examples of countries that undertook this
transformation; a topic I have been writing
on for decades.
I strongly recommend the IDB publication,
"Rethinking Productive Development", to the
minister and his colleagues, or those who may
succeed them, as a primer, which outlines the
steps to be taken to reconstruct an economy.
Mary K King
Insufficient for diversification
Who, or what, killed King Sugar?
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