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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands

Petrochemicals

In the late 1980s, Trinidad and Tobago became the world's second leading exporter of fertilizers behind only the Soviet Union. Three fertilizer plants constructed during the late 1970s and early 1980s nearly tripled fertilizer production between 1980 and 1985. Two of these plants, Trinidad Nitrogen Company (Tringen) and Fertilizers of Trinidad and Tobago (Fertrin), produced liquefied anhydrous ammonia, whereas the third plant processed granular urea. Fertilizer production reached 1.6 million tons by 1985, of which over 90 percent were exported. In 1985 about 82 percent of all fertilizers were anhydrous ammonia, and 18 percent were urea. Although fertilizer exports were on the rise, declining prices as a result of market oversupply actually reduced export revenues. In the late 1980s, the government was also considering projects to process and export liquefied natural gas and ethanol (an octane enhancer derived from sugarcane).

The Tringen and Fertrin ammonia plants were both government joint ventures that provided the government with a 51-percent equity share in each plant. The minority share of the Tringen plant was owned by the conglomerate W.R. Grace, whose subsidiary, Fedchem, operated the 800,000-square-meter fertilizer complex inside Point Lisas. The profitable Tringen plant expanded its capacity in the late 1980s. By 1988 its original capacity was expected to more than double to 900,000 tons of ammonia per year. Fertrin, a joint venture between Amoco and the government, did not come on-stream until the early 1980s, with a two-unit plant of 2,000-tons-per-day capacity. Although large cost overruns occurred in the construction phase, ammonia production was expected to be profitable during the 1980s and 1990s as long as fertilizer prices stabilized.

The first full year of urea production occurred in 1985 at the fully government-owned plant at Point Lisas. The plant had a 580,000-ton capacity per year and produced 339,800 tons in 1985, or about 60 percent of capacity in its first full year. Capacity utilization was expected to increase by the end of the 1980s as the plant's exports entered large foreign markets, such as India and China. In the late 1980s, however, the EEC accused Trinidad and Tobago of dumping urea on the West European market and was considering taking action against the islands. Urea production accounted for roughly a fifth of total fertilizer production in the country. In 1987 Trintoc was also building a plant to produce urea and formaldehyde adhesives inside the Point Lisas complex. The future profitability of the recently opened plant was perceived to be dependent on world price changes and the government's ability to find markets.

Trinidad and Tobago's first methanol plant also experienced its first full year of operations in 1985. Approximately 358,200 tons of methanol were produced in 1985, and the plant averaged a 90- percent capacity utilization rate. Over 360,000 tons of methanol were exported in 1985, which included stocks from the previous year. The government-owned methanol plant turned a profit in its first full year of operation; continued profitability was dependent on the expansion of the world methanol market. Doubts over the rate of expansion of methanol appeared in Trinidad and Tobago during 1986 when the construction of a second methanol plant, involving a joint venture between a British firm and the government, was canceled because of continued uncertainty about energy prices. All methanol was produced for the export market in the late 1980s, and it was estimated that in 1985 Trinidad and Tobago supplied approximately 18 percent of United States imports of methanol. As in the case of urea, however, the EEC was studying allegations that Trinidad and Tobago was dumping low-priced methanol on its regional market.

Data as of November 1987