Trinidad & Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) is a small island nation that rarely comes to mind as an important contributor to the global economy or security, but in fact it is a significant player in global energy markets because of its abundant natural gas resources and deepwater oil potential. T&T is the world’s largest exporter of ammonia (made from natural gas feedstock) and the sixth-largest exporter of LNG. In the mid-2000s, prior to the U.S. shale boom, U.S. leaders viewed energy imports from T&T as a key way to reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil and natural gas. However, Trinidad’s exports of U.S.-bound LNG have declined significantly over the past five years, a shift that offers important insights into whether declining bilateral energy trade might in turn weaken diplomatic and security relationships between the two countries.
U.S. imports of LNG from T&T fell from 440,000 thousand cubic feet (Mcf) to just more than 42,000 Mcf in 2014. To make up for the loss of the U.S. market, Trinidadian LNG exports have shifted toward the country’s Latin American neighbors, especially Chile, Argentina and Brazil. The United States is expected to begin exporting its own LNG in the near future, making it a director competitor of T&T.
On the other hand, T&T’s robust petrochemical industry mitigates the decline of the bilateral natural gas trade to some degree. The United States still imports sizeable amounts of Trinidadian ammonia and methanol, which are produced using natural gas as a feedstock, thereby providing T&T with an indirect way to continue exporting its natural gas.
T&T’s geographic position gives it strategic importance for the United States. T&T is just off the coast of Venezuela, astride regional transshipment routes for narcotics, firearms and other black market commodities flowing out of mainland South America. Through various mechanisms such as the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, the United States has long worked closely with the Trinidadian military and law enforcement, collaborating in maritime and aerial operations, capacity building, training, and other areas of relevance to regional U.S. security goals.
There are reasons why we would expect T&T to maintain strong security ties with the United States, regardless of the strength of their bilateral energy trade. In particular, T&T may be too small and too firmly locked into the U.S. orbit to have substantial foreign policy independence on issues important to the United States. U.S.-T&T relations also continue to be shaped by historical drivers such as extensive shared values, cultural ties and established relationships among key institutions. Finally, the United States and T&T have shared interests in regional stability and countering drug trade that might encourage them to cooperate in the security realm, regardless of rocky economic ties.