• Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq.

Trinidad & Tobago’s Economic Transformation

Trinidad and Tobago’s economy has transformed throughout the years.

When Britain colonized Trinidad and Tobago, sugar was the dominant industry. The sugar industry boomed because of slave labor, indentured servant labor, and later factories. In the 1880s, several small estates struggled to profit and sold their estates to the large sugar plantations. (The large sugar factories were also referred to as “usines.”) Other British companies abandoned sugar altogether. The remaining sugar plantations and factories were mainly in central Trinidad and around San Fernando. The large factories would grind the sugar canes from local estates and farms, often run by Indians. By the 1960s, nearly all of Trinidad’s sugar was produced by the British company, Caroni Ltd. The government eventually bought this company and it has since closed. As for Tobago, “King Sugar” died there in the 1880s and has not been resurrected since.

The cocoa industry came next. Records indicate that cocoa was cultivated on Trinidad and Tobago since the Spaniards first arrived. Cocoa became Trinidad’s successful export around the 1880s. It was grown all throughout Trinidad. The cocoa industry afforded Tobagonians an opportunity to work after the fall of the sugar industry in Tobago. The cocoa industry’s dominance ended in the 1920s for two reasons. First, crop prices around the world dropped. Second, the “witchbroom” disease afflicted the cocoa trees and the trees never fully recovered.

With sugar and cocoa at the wayside, small farmers contributed to Trinidad and Tobago’s economy and sustenance by growing food to eat and food to feed the animals. For example, they grew fruits and vegetables including beans and provisions. Farming did not often elevate the economic status of the farmer. Many farmers remained in poverty. However, owning their own land fostered a sense of fulfillment and nationality.

In the 1920s, the agricultural market was surpassed by the modern oil and gas industry. The oil and gas industry still reigns today. The three major oil pioneers were Walter Darwent, John Lee Lum, and Randolph Rust. Darwent, a former solider in the American Civil War, drilled the first successful oil well at Aripero in 1865. He died of yellow fever in 1868 and the oil industry was on hold for 30 years until Lee Lum arrived in Trinidad. The successful Chinese businessman acquired land and partnered with Rust to form a company to prospect the area. Rust’s efforts paid off and, in 1913, large-scale oil production began in Trinidad. Rust’s Guayaguayare oil site is still maintained by Trinidad’s national oil company Petrotrin, and has been designated as a historic site.

This week, the Minister of Energy announced that the Broadside well in TTDAA3 will be the deepest drill depth in Trinidad. The announcement is important because it highlights progress in Trinidad’s hydrocarbon exploration.

Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. is a trial-winning business and trademark attorney. She primarily helps new and small businesses with trademarks, formation, and name clearance searches. She writes articles on the importance of trademarks, trademark law updates, and also West Indian history (with an emphasis on India, Trinidad, Guyana, and the United States).

MDGR Law, P.A.

PO Box 101794 Fort Lauderdale, FL 33310-1794

(754) 800-4481


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