PM: Venezuela has not rejected Trinidad and Tobago gas licence waiver

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro shake hands after an agreement to negotiate a gas exploration agreement at Miraflores Palace, Caracase on December 5, 2016. The agreement for the Dragon gas deal was signed on August 25, 2018. –

THE Prime Minister dismissed Opposition UNC claims that the Venezuelan government is opposed to the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) granting TT a waiver to explore the Dragon natural gas field, which is located in Venezuela’s maritime waters.

Dr Rowley made this statement in the House of Representatives in response to claims from Naparima MP Rodney Charles that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has rejected the OFAC waiver.

The two-year waiver was granted on January 25.

He said, “The first hurdle has been crossed.”

In rejecting Charles’ claims, Rowley said, “The government of Venezuela has made no public statement specific to TT’s use of the OFAC licence.”

He added, “TT is in touch with Venezuela. We have meetings scheduled and negotiations ahead of us, therefore I can say nothing further at this time.”

Rowley also dismissed a question from Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee about when TT could receive its first supply of natural gas from the Dragon field.

“We are not anywhere about talking about first gas. We have to wait for other developments from the operator, in this case Shell, to give us those details now that we are able to proceed in some way. There are some significant negotiations to take place.”

Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George ruled a subsequent question from Lee about Government being unable to complete the negotiations Rowley referred to within the two-year period of the waiver as “out of order” based on Rowley’s earlier responses.

A Reuters report on Thursday said Maduro has called conditions barring foreign companies doing business with its state-owned oil and gas entity, from paying cash, as “colonialism.”

Reuters said Maduro criticised the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), accusing it of trying to dictate how private companies do business with Venezuela.

“They tell a country it has permission to negotiate with Venezuela, but it cannot pay in dollars or any form of cash, it must pay with food. That is colonialism,” Maduro said, according to the Reuters report. The report did not mention the TT/Venezuela Dragon gas deal.

Last year, Washington gave authorisation to European companies to once again trade oil and gas with Venezuela, but was limited by the cash restriction.

Similarly, in the Dragon gas deal, which was revived when the US gave TT permission to operate in the field, part of the terms is that Venezuela could not be paid in cash by TT.

Announcing the exemptions late in January, the Prime Minister said it would not hinder the deal, reminding people of a period when the Venezuelan government asked TT to purchase necessities on its behalf.

Dr Rowley said then with the Dragon gas deal, a similar approach could be taken.

The US$1 billion deal was signed between TT and Venezuela in August 2018. Those involved included energy giant Shell, Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, and TT’s National Gas Company (NGC).

The Dragon deal would have seen TT developing the field which is estimated to produce approximately 150 million standard cubic feet of gas a day. The gas was supposed to be imported through a billion-dollar pipeline to the Hibiscus platform off the northwest coast of TT. The platform is jointly owned by the TT government, NGC and Shell.

The deal was left in limbo after the US imposed sanctions on Venezuela in 2019.