As the largest exporter in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago’s transport network is vital to the performance of its economy. The country is already a fast-growing air passenger and cargo hub in the southern Caribbean and is now looking to spur growth in the maritime sector, where it intends to take advantage of its sheltered location below the hurricane belt and its proximity to shipping lanes serving North, Central and South America. The transport sector has not, however, been immune to the ramifications of the country’s current economic downturn. According to the Central Bank of T&T (CBTT), T&T’s GDP contracted by 2% in 2015 on the back of lower oil and gas prices. With public revenues significantly reduced as a result, the government was forced to abandon plans for a multi-billion-dollar mass transit project and to announce the phasing out of the long-standing subsidisation of super gasoline and diesel.
T&T has over 8320 km of roads, 4252 km of which are paved. A relatively developed highway network links communities along the country’s east-west and north-south corridors. With an underdeveloped public transport system and the absence of a railway network, private vehicles are the preferred form of transport, and the country depends primarily on goods vehicles for the overland transportation of cargo. T&T’s vehicle ownership rate is high due to a combination of factors, including decades of subsidised fuel, low unemployment rates and an increase in the importation of inexpensive used vehicles over the last two decades.
With yearly total sales steadily increasing since 2010, 19,118 new vehicles were sold in 2014 – an all-time record according to CBTT data – up 10.8% year-on-year (y-o-y). For 2015, however, this figure dropped to 18,765, and between January and April 2016 a 29% y-o-y decrease was recorded in sales, which fell from 7100 to 5515, as the impact of the energy-led economic downturn intensified.
With growth in vehicle ownership outpacing road expansion, the increase in the number of vehicles on the road has led to rising levels of traffic congestion, with urban centres like downtown Port of Spain, San Fernando, Arima and Chaguanas being the areas most affected. Congestion and the productivity losses associated with it have a significant impact on business operations and costs. “Traffic is a major consideration in terms of dispatching our drivers throughout the day,” Rawlson Paul, operations manager at UPS, told OBG.
T&T is already an important hub for air passenger and cargo traffic. The country has two international airports: Piarco International Airport (PIA), 25 km east of Port of Spain, and ANR Robinson International Airport (ANRRIA) in Crown Point, 11 km from Tobago’s capital Scarborough. According to the Airport Authority of T&T (AATT), PIA is the third-largest airport in the English-speaking Caribbean in terms of overall passenger movements and the seventh-largest in the region. Spanning 680 ha, PIA has a 3600-metre runway able to accommodate large wide-body commercial aircraft. The airport’s north terminal features 14 second-level aircraft gates with jet bridges for international flights, two ground-level domestic gates and 82 ticket counter positions.
PIA has seen rapid growth in recent years. According to the AATT, total passenger movements increased from 1.79m in 2014 to nearly 2.04m in 2015, up 14%, while for 2016 the figure is expected to surpass 2.09m. Cargo is also experiencing growth, albeit at a slower pace. Total cargo movements increased by 3% y-o-y in 2015, reaching nearly 45.5m tonnes, and according to projections by the Airports Council International, the figure is set to reach nearly 46.8m tonnes in 2016. “PIA has been outpacing regional peers in passenger and cargo movement growth and is emerging as a cargo hub in the southern Caribbean, well positioned to serve the growing South American market,” Hayden Newton, general manager of AATT, told OBG. While many other southern Caribbean airports are restricted by limited runway sizes, PIA is well positioned to become a break bulk centre, receiving large loads, and repackaging and forwarding freight for regional delivery.
The airport’s improving performance is not going unnoticed. In April 2016 local media reported that cargo companies Aviation Business Limited and Laparkan were both planning to expand cargo operations, and that a number of companies, including Attenza Duty Free and Signature Flight Support, were initiating operations at the airport.
The addition of 12 self-check-in kiosks to PIA’s north terminal in 2015 is expected to reduce average check-in time for passengers and improve the airport experience. In 2016 and beyond, improvements to car parking facilities and security screening check-points, are also part of AATT’s plans for the airport going forward.
In recent years, the AATT has moved to diversify its business portfolio and increase its non aeronautical revenue by developing the airport land to the north of the North Terminal’s public car park into the Piarco AeroPark, the Caribbean’s first “aerotropolis”.
Phase one of the project will span 168 acres and contain six zones: Zone Sierra will house a service station and a park, Zone Hotel is being reserved for a hotel and conference centre, Zone Oscar will feature office complexes and Zone Romeo will host retail outlets, a shopping plaza and car rental facilities. Zone Whisky and Zone Alpha will be used as areas for warehouses and aircraft maintenance, and for repair and the provision of general facilities, respectively.
In early 2016 construction of the main infrastructure, including roads, electrical installations, and potable water and sewage systems, had been completed, and the AATT announced its first tenant – local fuel retailer Unipet. “We are also currently in the process of reviewing another proposal for a major investment that will add to T&T’s tourism offerings and improve the airport experience significantly,” Newton told OBG. “As these partnerships are announced, we hope to see more investors come on board.”
In the short term, the AATT is working to attract major North American airlines and improve connectivity to Europe. A recent air transport agreement between T&T and Canada bodes particularly well for the sub sector. The partnership, signed in June 2015, is expected to boost trade and tourism between the two countries. “The agreement creates a modern framework for air services between Canada and T&T by removing all restrictions on the numbers of flights and airlines designated to operate those flights,” Gerard Latulippe, Canada’s high commissioner to T&T, told local media outlets. “It allows air carriers to freely set the prices according to market conditions.” In April 2016 Air Canada announced its subsidiary, Air Canada rouge, would be launching a twice-weekly Toronto-Port of Spain service starting on December 21, 2016 for the 2016/17 winter season.
ANR Robinson International
ANRRIA, on the smaller island of Tobago, has also seen its passenger traffic increase steadily in recent years. Total arrivals reached a record 511,062 in 2015, according to the AATT, up from a total of 355,253 in 2009, with growth being driven primarily by a rise in domestic arrivals, which increased from 316,917 in 2009 to 482,957 in 2015. International arrivals, in contrast, displayed considerably more volatility over the period – reaching 38,336 in 2009, but declining to 28,105 in 2015 – and have yet to reach 2008 levels, when 56,517 arrivals were recorded. Though the airport has been undergoing upgrades, with renovations and a new first-class lounge in 2015, rapid traffic growth is placing significant pressure on existing infrastructure, and a new terminal is now viewed as a necessity. During the presentation of the FY 2015/16 budget to Parliament, Colm Imbert, minister of finance, highlighted that fulfilling the demand for a new terminal was part of the government’s development plans for the coming years.
National Flag Carrier
State-owned Caribbean Airlines (CAL) was established in 2006 when it superseded BWIA West Indies Airways. The national carrier operates out of PIA as its main hub, with more than 600 weekly flights to 19 destinations in the Caribbean, North and South America, and Europe. Since 2007 the airline has also operated the domestic air bridge between T&T’s two islands. After merging with Air Jamaica in 2011 in a $50m transaction, CAL became the leading airline in the Caribbean and a flag carrier for Guyana and Jamaica, with an operational base at Norman Manley International Airport in the latter country.
More recently, the airline’s competitive standing in North America has been weakened by increased competition, particularly after the launch of services from JetBlue and WestJet on some of CAL’s key regional routes. According to the CAPA-Centre for Aviation, since introducing a Port of Spain-Fort Lauderdale service in 2014, JetBlue competes with CAL on four of the carrier’s six top North American routes. On CAL’s busiest North American route by seats – Port of Spain-JKF – it took a 64% share of bookings between August 24, 2015 and August 30, 2015, with JetBlue holding the remaining share.
After a reported loss of $60m in 2014, operations at CAL were streamlined in 2015, leading to a considerable reduction in the size of the carrier’s fleet. These efforts involved dropping five aircraft: two Boeing 767s and three 737s. As a direct consequence of these moves, by August 2015 seating capacity was down by 8% y-o-y, according to the CAPA-Centre for Aviation. Despite the cutbacks, CAL managed to increase efficiency by flying its paired down narrowbody fleet of 737s more frequently. The carrier also reduced operations over the course of 2015 to focus on its core Caribbean flight network and key hubs in North America, particularly New York, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, suspending its transatlantic PIA-London Gatwick service and flights between Georgetown and Toronto, among other routes. These measures seem to have made an impact, and the company has seen a substantial reduction in losses, while also managing to increase passenger traffic in 2015. According to the airline, passenger and freight movements increased by 3% and 6%, respectively, in 2015. Moving forward, CAL will be looking to take advantage of other opportunities in the Caribbean that it views as having significant potential, including markets in Montego Bay, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Another goal is for CAL to attract new traffic by positioning PIA as a connection point from other hubs in South America, in particular Brazil, Venezuela and French Guyana. In 2016 the airline is migrating to a new reservation system, due to come online in July 2016, which will enable it to offer web and mobile check-in at airport kiosks.
Given its large export-oriented energy and chemical industries, maritime transport is of particular importance to T&T. The country has two main container ports, the Port of Port of Spain (PPOS) and the Port of Point Lisas (PPL), as well as a number of smaller, specialised ports, including Galeota (oil and gas), Pointe-à-Pierre and Point Fortin (petroleum products), Claxton Bay (cement), Tembladora (bauxite), Brighton (asphalt) and Chaguaramas (oil and gas and dry dock). A network of 1567 km of natural gas pipelines, 587 km of crude oil pipelines and 257 km of gas-condensate pipelines links on and offshore production fields to T&T’s refinery and petrochemicals installations in the south-west near Point Lisas, Pointein Scarborough on Tobago and at the PPOS, while two passenger ferries run between Port of Spain and Scarborough: T&T Express launched in 2006 and T&T Spirit began operating in 2007. Water taxis serve passengers travelling between Port of Spain, Chaguaramas and San Fernando.
Most of the domestic trade handled at ports in T&T involves imported cargo, with exports taking up a smaller share of throughput. The country processes some 200,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of trans-shipment volume on an annual basis, with trans-shipment accounting for roughly 20% and 33% of containerised cargo at PPL and the PPOS, respectively (see analysis).
The government-owned PPOS is the largest port in the country and spans 142 ha, 61 ha of which are used specifically for cargo operations. The port, which was established in 2006, is a business unit of the Port Authority of T&T, which has been in existence since 1939, and passed into government ownership following the Port Authority Act of 1969. With an estimated annual handling capacity of up to 600,000 TEUs, the PPOS handles different types of cargo, including containers, cars, break, dry and liquid bulk.
The port’s performance was negatively impacted in 2015 by total throughput falling by 23% to 298,969 TEUs from 385,892 TEUs in 2014 and 401,264 TEUs in 2009. The decline was the result of a combination of factors, including a loss of market share in the export areas to the country’s second container port, the PPL, and a decline in trans-shipment volume, after PPOS’s largest client, French shipping line CMA CGM, took part of its trans-shipment activity to Kingston, Jamaica. Furthermore, a strike in May 2014 caused productivity levels to fall sharply, which did not improve until months afterwards. Limited equipment availability also exacerbated the lower than expected productivity levels for the remainder of that year.
Despite these constraints, in early 2015 the PPOS was managing a recovery in productivity, with the port recording 21.7 berth moves per hour for 2015, up from 17.7 in 2014. As of January 2016 further improvements had lead the number of berth moves per hour to 26.3.“ We continue to aim for 30 berth moves per hour in 2016. As for volumes, we are working to recover half or more of the volume we lost, but we may still end 2016 below 2013 volumes,” Trudy Gill-Conlon, acting CEO of the PPOS, told OBG.
The port’s performance in recent years compared to other ports in the region is a reflection of a lack of capital investment. Successive governments have debated moving the location of the port, which sits on prime waterfront real estate property, to free the site for development. However, the port’s undecided future has prevented any major infrastructure investments.
By contrast, PPL’s performance has gradually improved, with the port recording a constant increase in traffic in recent years. The port’s performance was also less affected by the economic downturn in 2015, with throughput for containerised volumes reaching 221,836 TEUs, up from 208,972 TEUs in 2014. The 19.51-ha port, which is 51% government-owned and 49% privately owned, is managed by the Point Lisas Industrial Port Development Corporation (PLIPDECO) and primarily serves the petrochemical industries. The port has six general cargo and container berths, with a total length of 645 metres.
At 240,000 TEUs, PPL has one of the lowest annual container throughput capacities in the region and is currently operating at near full capacity. However, it is preparing for a phased expansion, which will see capacity of 1m TEUs on completion within the next 10-15 years. The first phase of the expansion – which is expected to cost up to $100m and take 36 months to complete – will add 150-200 metres of berth length and increase capacity to 500,000 TEUs.
In the meantime, the port has been diversifying its sources of revenue with the introduction in 2015 of less-than-container-load (LCL) export, and demurrage and detention services, followed in early 2016 by the introduction of bunkering services in partnership with Ventrin Petroleum, a subsidiary of Staatsolie, the state oil company of Suriname. Based in PPL, Ventrin supplies bunker fuel to international vessels calling at ports and anchorages throughout the island of Trinidad. “The sheltered waters of the Gulf of Paria represent a competitive advantage for bunkering. At a national level, T&T’s main bunkering competitor is the Sint Eustatius station, a very small island in the Dutch Antilles, aside from Curaçao, which also has its own bunker terminal operation,” Anne Ghent, CEO of Ventrin Petroleum, told OBG.
PLIPDECO is also the landlord of the Point Lisas Industrial Estate, an 860-ha property with 103 tenants and home to the majority of heavy industry in T&T, particularly in the downstream energy sector. The corporation is currently looking to position the port and industrial estate as a logistics centre and platform for the consolidation, repackaging and relabelling of cargo. These developments should ensure PPL is well-positioned to unlock new opportunities in trans-shipment.
Investment In Ports
T&T’s government, through its National Energy Corporation, has been working to position key port facilities and industrial estates for particular niche markets. To this end, the NEC was allocated TT$140m ($21.6m) under the Public Sector Investment Programme 2016 to carry out development work at Union Estate, Point Lisas South and East Industrial Estates, La Brea Industrial Estate and the Galeota and Brighton ports. Expansion at the latter two in particular is set to increase the country’s cargo capacity significantly. At Galeota, phase one of the expansion plan added five new berths and 1.2 km of access roads in 2015, and phase two is expected to turn it into a fully commercial port, according to NEC. The site, which currently supports only a few logistics operations for BP T&T, BHP Billiton, Trinity Exploration and Production, Repsol and the National Gas Company, will be positioned to grow as the main logistics hub for the energy sector.
Brighton Port lies in the 1400-ha La Brea Industrial Estate, which is a site that largely deals with operations, construction and engineering. The estate currently hosts 34 tenants in marine and oil and gas support logistics, construction, engineering and environmental remediation, as well as offshore operations. Expansion and upgrades to both the port and the estate are set to increase the port’s berth length from 700 metres to just over 1 km and allow the site to meet the requirements of the first methanol and dimethyl ether plants in the area, which the NEC expects will be fully operational by 2019 at an expected cost of between TT$400m and TT$600m ($61.6m-92.4m). Planning for the port upgrade was under way as of early 2016, with the expanded facilities also set to enable methanol trans-shipment activities. Furthermore, although plans for a mid-scale liquid natural gas and melamine plants were deferred pending an environmental permit in 2016, a renewables cluster is one of the downstream energy projects being actively pursued for the site.
“While Chaguaramas remains the main port for the energy sector’s offshore operations, accounting for roughly 80% of the hub’s business, new investments in Galeota and La Brea could see that figure change in the future, as limited land space will prevent further development in the area,” Dawayne Belcon, CEO at DS Belcon, told OBG.
While efforts to increase efficiency at ports and airports have generally been undermined by cumbersome Customs and excise requirements, as well as labour disputes, the country’s business environment is still improving. One way in which this is happening is through T&T’s ongoing transition to the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) – an electronic data interchange and management information system that enables paperless Customs procedures. Lower transaction costs and significantly improved processing times are expected once the system is operational across the board. However, implementation of the initiative has not been without challenges. Although ASYCUDA is currently operational at all major ports of entry, some operating procedures are still processed manually.
The recent expansion of services under the country’s single electronic window, TTBizLink – a platform providing a range of government e-services – will increase efficiency and facilitate trade by reducing costs for import and export transactions. Since its launch in 2012, 46 transactional e-services have been brought online, and in April 2016 TTBizLink was expanded to include an e-maritime services module, which will link ports, airports and Customs functions.
The country’s rankings in the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report 2015/16” show a slight decline in the s transport sector ratings when compared to scores from the 2010/11 edition of the report. T&T ranked 61st for the quality of its air transport infrastructure in 2015/16, slipping from 40th position in the earlier report, and the country also fell five places to 71st in terms of its ranking for quality of port infrastructure. In terms of road quality T&T’s rating remained unchanged at 64th. While T&T achieved an overall ranking of 89th from 140 countries, the comparatively higher ratings achieved in indices connected to transport reflect the sector’s relative strengths.
The transport industry, which was allocated a total budget of TT$1.56bn ($240m) for FY 2015/16, is already feeling the impact of the country’s economic downturn, which saw energy tax revenues decrease by 75% in the same fiscal year. According to the CBTT, growth in the transport, storage and communications sector remained flat in 2015. The sector employed around 49,000 people in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to T&T’s Central Statistical Office.
In April 2016 the government announced it was shelving plans for a mass transit project and eliminating long-standing fuel subsidies, as part of a set of measures designed to curb expenditure (see analysis). Instead, the government is set to focus on improving road infrastructure so as to ease traffic congestion. Improvements to areas which suffer from heavy traffic around Chaguanas, Diego Martin and Tobago are anticipated, followed by the construction of interchanges at all major intersections along the Churchill Roosevelt Highway (CRH) to PIA – Trinidad’s major east-west artery – beginning in 2017. In addition, there are several infrastructure projects set for immediate implementation, including the extension of the CRH from Wallerfield to Manzanilla on the east coast and the construction of a new freeway from Valencia in north-central Trinidad to Toco in the north-east. The government also has plans to establish a new port and ferry service to Tobago from Toco, to build a highway between San Fernando and Princes Town, and to complete the Point Fortin Highway. In May 2015 prime minister Keith Rowley announced that the Inter-American Development Bank had committed to provide funding for the construction of the Valencia to Toco highway, as well as Toco port facilities.
As mentioned previously, the government is looking to spur growth in the maritime sector (see analysis), which it sees as having significant potential, given T&T’s favourable geographic position. In April 2016 the minister of finance announced that the government had begun discussions with foreign investors on a set of integrated projects, including a new commercial port and a maritime and shipbuilding complex, suggesting that plans to gradually move the PPOS to the Sea Lots/Beetham area, in Port of Spain, may be back on the table. To expedite the transition to cleaner fuels, the government has also introduced incentives for the use of compressed natural gas (CNG), such as its removal of motor-vehicle and value-added taxes on imported vehicles less than two years old that run on CNG. It is also moving to convert all government vehicles, fast ferries and water taxis to CNG.
Shipping & Courier Services
Among the measures being introduced to raise revenue is a new 7% tax on goods and services purchased online from foreign retail groups, a move which could have an adverse impact on the shipping and courier services segment. “Courier and shipping services have been booming in T&T, with online shopping acting as a catalyst, especially after the introduction of Skybox services,” Paul of UPS told OBG. Skybox provides shoppers with a virtual PO box in the US, enabling companies such as Amazon to ship products domestically, meaning that Skybox services companies can forward products at competitive rates. “With the introduction of Skybox, growth has increased exponentially in the past four years – in excess of 400% – cannibalising traditional courier operations,” Paul said. According to Imbert, the new tax, which will become effective in September 2016, is intended to “help manage the increase in foreign exchange outflows from online purchases, reduce revenue leakage and assist local manufacturers and service companies to compete with overseas retailers”.
The current recessionary environment could dampen growth prospects for the transport sector. According to the CBTT, T&T’s GDP is forecast to contract by another 2% in 2016. Though port expansion plans could be affected by the shortage of revenues, conditions might also be ripe for the expansion of public-private partnerships. Looking ahead at the long term, boosting the sector’s competitiveness will be key to supporting export growth in other sectors, including the manufacturing and petrochemical sectors, as well as tourism and agriculture, both of which have been identified as key avenues for diversification.