(Trinidad Express, 17.Oct.2023) — Trinidad and Tobago can now make cash payments to Venezuela for the natural gas extracted from the Dragon field, Energy Minister Stuart Young has announced.
He also disclosed that the United States government has approved an amendment to the licence granted in January for the joint development of the field.
The previous requirement imposed by the United States in the January licence, which prohibited cash payments for the gas, had posed a significant challenge and appeared to jeopardise negotiations, with Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro publicly criticising its inclusion.
“I am pleased to tell the people of Trinidad and Tobago that today the United States government has issued through the Treasury Department’s OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago an amendment to the licence that we had requested in the terms that we have requested,” Young said yesterday.
“It also allows the Government of Trinidad and Tobago working along with NGC and Shell to negotiate complete negotiations and all agreements that need to be done with the government of Venezuela and PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela, SA) for the development and the production and the export of that gas from the Dragon gas field into Trinidad and Tobago for us to develop it and for us to make payments in FIAT currency, as well as US dollars as well as Venezuelan Bolivars as well as via humanitarian measures, which is what was envisaged initially,” he said during a news conference at the Ministry of Energy at the International Waterfront Centre in Port of Spain.
Young said there are no restrictions for the quantity of US cash that can be used.
The amended licence will now also run for two years until October 31, 2025, he said.
He believes this gives enough time to get everything sorted.
“So that OFAC licence now is a full greenlight for us to be able to do what needs to be done. In the meantime we have continued to be engaged with the government of Venezuela as well as PDVSA,” Young said.
He said after being notified of the amendment, he reached out to the Vice President of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez and the information was well received.
The next step is that he will be returning to Venezuela soon to continue negotiations, the minister told reporters.
Young said he was hopeful that the negotiations will be successfully concluded, and that the gas from Dragon can be brought to Trinidad and Tobago in the “not too distant future”.
What was signed in Venezuela
Young yesterday sought to clarify the agreement that was signed in Venezuela on September 20 and the need for confidentiality.
“There are many, many persons in Venezuela seeking to do business with Venezuela so if the Venezuelan government is going to negotiate a deal with Trinidad and Tobago, they would not want the terms of that deal, the arrangements we have made, to be known to the others who they are also negotiating with. That is ‘Contracts 101’ and that is the reason for confidentiality, so unfortunately, we could not discuss the terms of what was signed in Venezuela,” he said.
“What I can tell you is that agreement is for the pursuit of the development of Dragon, it also permits for us to continue discussions with the government of Venezuela for other gas fields and other gas developments.
“It also got down into granular level detail with respect to the allocation of gas and for all of the gas from Dragon to come to Trinidad and Tobago and the allocation of that gas both to our domestic (petrochemical) sector as well as the LNG sector for Shell to continue to be our operator and our partner in these arrangements,” he said.
International media reported yesterday that the governments of the United States and Venezuela were poised to announce a deal that could pave the way for sanctions relief.
Asked about this, Young said: “At all stages we have continued to encourage dialogue, at all stages I can say and I can report, including on the last occasion as I was in Venezuela having those meetings and conversations, we encouraged dialogue. We have even held out that Trinidad and Tobago remains available to assist in such conversations. We can be a meeting place, these types of things.
“We are always well received by President Maduro and his government as well as the United States government at the highest levels. I can’t give any more detail than that. We are aware and we have done all that we can to encourage the parties in the right direction. What we believe is the right direction,” he said.
Previously, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley had likened the Dragon gas negotiations to pushing a boulder up a mountain, and Young said he believes that proverbial boulder is now much closer to the pinnacle.
“Let us hope we can soon get it over and get into the conversation of when the gas would be able to come to Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
By Joel Julien