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US to unveil energy deal as Obama meets Portia

Published:Wednesday | April 8, 2015 | 3:33 PMDaraine Luton
Phillip Paulwell

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell has described as "comprehensive" an arrangement with the United States (US), which could see Jamaica's North American neighbours providing substantial support in the country's quest for energy security.

Paulwell is today scheduled to sign a letter of intent with US Secretary of Energy Dr Ernest Moniz.

"It is a good start and it signifies tremendous opportunities and possibilities going forward," Paulwell said.

Asked how the arrangement is likely to impact Jamaica's relationship with Venezuela - the South American country which has shared its oil with Caribbean countries under a part-payment arrangement known as PetroCaribe - Paulwell said "we do intend to maintain our strong relationship with Venezuela as we build on this new area of relationship with the United States."

Pressed further on whether the arrangement with the US could lead to a slackening of ties with Venezuela, Paulwell said, "I don't see that as a possibility."

Added Paulwell: "I believe we will be working closely with both countries."

He said that the agreement to be signed today was ironed out recently.

"I went to an energy forum in the US Virgin Islands that was hosted by the US government two weeks ago," he said.

The US has been making overtures to the Caribbean, which is generally considered its third border.

In January, US Vice-President Joseph Biden invited Caribbean heads of state to Washington as part of his Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, which is aimed at helping to move small-island governments away from fossil fuels.

The White House has said that a concerted effort is being made to "provide assistance to Caribbean islands on difficult policy and regulatory reforms that can attract the private finance required to implement new energy technologies and approaches".

attention deserved

One such initiative is the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) which will dedicate resources to the Caribbean to facilitate deals that match US government financing with strong energy projects.

Ben Rhodes, a senior Obama adviser, has said that "we absolutely feel that the CARICOM region does deserve greater attention and engagement from the United States".

"We are looking to continually deepen our relationship with the Caribbean and can play an important role in enhancing the energy security of the region," Rhodes added.

Petroleumworld.com quotes Ted Piccone, a former adviser to Bill Clinton, as saying that with Venezuela cutting its supply of oil under the PetroCaribe programme, "the goal of the United States now is to try to break up PetroCaribe".

Piccone said further that the goal involves the US offering "in particular, the Caribbean states that are so vulnerable and so dependent on energy imports, some extra special attention".

Last week, Dr Jermaine McCalpin, associate director of the Centre for Caribbean Thought and lecturer on transitional justice in the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies, Mona, said Jamaica and the region will have to look beyond Venezuela for its energy salvation.

"The question of energy requires us to move beyond Venezuela, which is where the president's visit is also serendipitous and that is why they have been focusing across the region, using St Kitts as the model, for green energy, under the auspices of OPIC and that is potentially economically positive for us as a region," McCaplin said.

"PetroCaribe apart, and some of the problems we have had, I think we can widen the scope for energy and I think this visit can help us to widen the scope," he added.

Rhodes, in an on-the-record conference call, said, "the United States has significant resources not just in terms of our own energy production, but also in our energy infrastructure and our ability to work with countries that have formed cooperative solutions, to promote energy security so that our region is more prosperous and less vulnerable to shocks and energy markets".