Huge Success: T&T’s Economic Development 60 Years On

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‘Possibly the greatest achievement of this country and one which is directly attributable to the vision and efforts of Dr Eric Williams, was our ability to successfully educate our people’


By Vyash Nandlal

AS we proudly celebrated 60 years of independence, I could not help but notice an undercurrent of a narrative which seemed to be suggesting that our progress as a nation may not have been significant.

Some on social media even went so far as to ask the ridiculous question, “are we better off now than in 1962?” The resounding answer to that question is yes, of course, we are better off. While I have seen many responses to this preposterous supposition, I’d like to discuss our remarkable economic progress in 60 years.

In 1962, the Trinidad and Tobago economy was largely agricultural with an oil sector gaining momentum. The average Trinbagonian, especially the working class had access to few opportunities for upward mobility. Higher paying jobs and educational opportunities were not available to the masses. Unemployment was high, wages were low and there existed a high level of inequality with a small middle class. Poverty was rampant and the general level of development was low. According to Central Bank data, in 1962, per capita income was US$680 per year with an economy that was roughly TT$1 billion in GDP.

In the ensuing years, the oil industry flourished and expanded into a full-fledged energy industry, creating high-paying jobs and opportunities. In the 1970s crude oil production peaked along with prices, creating the so-called oil boom. With this came the opportunity for the government to place ownership of strategic assets in the hands of the people of T&T. Strategic energy assets were nationalised along with other key assets in utilities, transportation, agriculture and finance. The seeds of these state-owned entities, which touch and benefit the everyday lives of citizens, were planted then.

During this time, the vision for our transformation and reorientation into a gas economy took root. We moved towards the monetisation of natural gas with the National Gas Company playing a critical role.

Most significant was the creation of the Pt Lisas industrial estate, which flourished into a vibrant and highly successful downstream energy sector and placed this country among the top petrochemical producers in the world. With the development of LNG projects in the 1990s and early 2000s, our transformation into a gas economy was complete, with this country becoming a major global gas exporter.

As our manufacturing sector expanded so too did our financial and services sector. Trinidad and Tobago became an exporting giant in the region, which created the foreign exchange reserves so critical to our economic wellbeing. Our product export mix ranged from agricultural produce and processed foods to petrochemicals and hydrocarbons.

Possibly the greatest achievement of this country and one which is directly attributable to the vision and efforts of Dr Eric Williams, was our ability to successfully educate our people. Access was provided to the prestigious denominational schools through the common entrance exams and the number of government schools expanded. The result was access to free educational opportunities for children who would have ordinarily not been afforded it. Education created the opportunity for upward socioeconomic mobility and the expansion of the middle class. The introduction of GATE in the 2000s led to another revolution in tertiary education, with the benefits continuing to reverberate today.

These were only some of the major foundation stones which created the basis for the economic success that Trinidad and Tobago has become, however it was not without challenges. The 1980s became known as the “lost decade” for Latin America and this country was not spared from the hardships. We have faced the global financial crisis of 2008 and most recently endured the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet we have persevered and continued to meet these challenges while preserving the gains made over the years.

Today, according to the UN Human Development Index, this country is ranked as a High Income Country, highlighting the remarkable level of development we have achieved as a people. Our economy has grown from TT$1 Billion in 1962 to a projected TT $171 Billion in 2022, according to IMF forecasts.

In the same period, our annual per capita income has increased from US $680 to over US$15,000, among the highest in the region. We have a highly developed energy sector with complex downstream industries, which the world looks to as a model of development in the sector. A vibrant services sector continues to grow and expand, fuelled by a highly educated workforce. We have indeed come a long way from our state of under development, at the time of independence.

The facts speak for themselves, despite our challenges, T&T’s economic development over the last 60 years has been a huge success and one which cannot be taken lightly. Many had started out with a lot more and have not achieved the level of socioeconomic development we have. Economic development is a long-term process which can only be achieved with vision, sustained effort and the patience required to achieve it.

In the same way, the architects of our past, have created our favourable present, so too the leaders of today must be dynamic and innovative enough, to build on this strong platform, taking us further into the next sixty years and beyond.

Vyash Nandlal hold a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and an MSc in International Finance. He has more than 12 years’ experience in the field of economic research and analysis. He currently works as an economic researcher and advisor in the Office of the Prime Minister and sits on the boards of several state and non-profit organisations. The opinions and comments expressed by him are not necessarily those of AZP News, a Division of Complete Image Limited.


One thought on “Huge Success: T&T’s Economic Development 60 Years On

  1. I believe Mr Nandlal’s article is a fair assessment of our 60 years of growth and transformation from an underdeveloped economy to a developed stabilized one.
    As a beneficiary of a “good” and ” heavily subsidized” education I can attest to the fact that Dr Eric Williams was right. Our greatest asset has been access to a free, quality education for all our citizens. Coming from a humble background I would not have been able to make my contribution as a teacher if the state had not provided access to education from primary to tertiary.
    Covid has made ” negative” inroads into this most valuable asset. It is my fervent hope that the state will continue to find the finances to assist with the education of our people so that my children and grand children would have the opportunity to contribute to the continued growth of our economy.
    I must add that it is unfortunate that certain sectors of our society e.g. union leaders do not have the insight and the foresight to understand that we all have to share in recovery efforts after a pandemic. It is not a Gov’t effort alone. Every citizens’ effort/ contribution is required to assist in this recovery. It has to be a national effort. This definitely means taking a little less than expected so that we ensure the survival of our future generation.
    My mother used to say” take a little and live long”.

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