Diplomacy : Malay Mishra


“Our nations complement each other”

As a joint secretary at the diaspora division in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) between 2004 and late 2007, Malay Mishra was responsible for interacting with a vast cross-section of the Indian diaspora. His interactions with the diaspora were intense, and he was part of the main organizational teams for the 3rd, 4th and 5th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas events. He has served in many countries including those strong in Indian diaspora population. He was high commissioner in Seychelles and has served in USA, Iran, Germany, France, Senegal and Mauritius among others.
Now he takes over as India’s High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, a nation with a majority east Indian population. He spoke to Editor Sayantan Chakravarty on the eve of his departure to the twin Caribbean isles:

You are now the High Commissioner of India to Trinidad and Tobago. Needless to say, your huge experience at the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs will come in very handy when it comes to dealing with a nation with a majority population of east Indians…
Trinidad has the largest percentage of Indians anywhere in the Caribbean. That has given the overseas Indian community good grounding, exposure, allowed them to live, to work and yet maintain cultural and emotional ties with India. They are the first bridge between the two nations. My role as the High Commissioner of India in that sense is to first of all assess the strengths of PIOs who’d been in the local milieu over generations, and assess also how best they’ve socially and culturally assimilated. We are looking at two major Indian groups in Trinidad, one that migrated in the colonial period whose later day generation is well established. The other one is that which went after the independence of both India and Trinidad and Tobago and has established itself in academics, trade, and as entrepreneurs. We need to see how it has networked, and how best its resources can be made use of. One of my roles will be to see how the diaspora can take advantage of developments in India, and contribute to India’s development.

India’s relationship with its diaspora in Trinidad and Tobago should be more of a strategic one, considering that the diaspora’s presence in the twin island nation can be leveraged to increase Indian say in the Caribbean as such…
Diaspora is indeed a strategic factor. The role and strength of the Indian diaspora globally is now acknowledged. That we have the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs means India recognizes that strength and reckons it is a global force. The diaspora is diverse, and well spread out. Every region has its particularities. In some regions the diaspora is very advanced in terms of knowledge, trade, business and finance. In some countries, the diaspora could be more culturally oriented and is settled. You’ve to assess the strength of the diaspora in different ways.

The Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in New Delhi is mounting regular investment missions to the twin island nation from India. Do you see a situation when a similar mission can be brought from TT to India that comprises Indian businesses in that country?
It has to be a two-way traffic. Only then can trade and investment be meaningful. The initiative of the High Commission in New Delhi is laudable. Already one trade and investment mission has been to Trinidad, and another is on its way in June. These should be well-structured, focused and comprise of people who’re serious, and wish to genuinely engage themselves in areas of mutual interest. There needs to be meaningful participation and follow-up. The second mission’s visit coincides with the Trade and Investment Convention 2009 which I understand is a very important event in the Caribbean. This’ll give exposure to trends, opportunities and facilitate more interaction. The mission needs to capitalize on this. Once there is awareness from the TT side, and its people, perhaps it will be worthwhile to bring in a delegation led by PIOs to India and look at significant opportunities in participating in the growth of India. India is booming, and opportunities are tremendous. There is no reason why TT should not take advantage of this. I foresee a situation where the PIOs will pursue more interests in India.

The above step may also help shift an imbalance in the current bilateral trade situation between the two nations…
Current Indian exports to Trinidad is in the order of about USD 130 million annually (2007 figures) and exports from Trinidad to India is in the order of USD 170 million. The balance is in their favour. One can certainly diversify the basket, and very many areas can be added. I think we have frameworks in place, TT has a most favoured nation (MFN) status, we have a double taxation treaty agreement, a broad overarching inter-Governmental commission agreement on trade, economy, science, cultural cooperation. Within that we are looking at a joint commission meeting which would spur bilateral relations in several areas, including in trade. We’d like to focus on the economic side, given that we are a growing strong economy, we have complementarities. TT has one of the highest per capita incomes and a strong stable market. It has developed well as an industrial hub in a way it is driving growth in the Caribbean. It is in the integration process and is one of the leading nations in the Caricom Single Market Economy (evolving economic union of the CARICOM).
India is looking at the Caribbean with great interest. Our focus is more on trade and economic relations in the Latin America and Caribbean regions. TT is rich in hydrocarbon resources, has developed a strong industrial base, developed infrastructure very fast, and is poised to be one of the fastest evolving countries in the region. There is plenty of potential to be a significant player, but also a part of a bigger Caribbean market with access to larger markets like South America, Europe, USA, Canada through a number of trade facilitation agreements which India can take advantage of.

Trinidad’s large Indian presence is divided along several political lines. Is there any role that the High Commission of India in Port of Spain can play to create conditions for a more unified voice for the Indian community?
We believe that the Indian community if united can play a strong and stable role in a multi-ethnic society like Trinidad and Tobago. It can contribute a lot to the development of that country having integrated well over hundreds of years of being present there. Our role among others will be to see that we can encourage in catering to the emotional, cultural and economic aspirations of the PIO, both in terms of their integrating better in their own milieu, and in developing linkages and engagements within India.

What is the vision that you have for strengthening ties during your tenure?
My vision is one of evolving a balance and ensuring stable relations between India and Trindad and Tobago, working in India’s interest for betterment of conditions of people in both countries, and across all communities. Being multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, as nations we can complement each other. I’m carrying a plan of action that encompasses a broad range of activities that we can develop within established frameworks and parameters. We want to develop dialogues and consultations at various levels including levels of the Government, and civil society. My vision would be to foster an intense and sustained interaction and dialogue for betterment of our people and for advancing each others interests in the global community.

There is a significant Indo-Trinidadian population that lives outside the country, primarily in the USA, Canada and the U.K. Many of them would like to establish deeper contacts with India, culturally and commercially. Is it part of your plan to engage this community as well?
Our missions are entrusted with the responsibility of catering to the needs and aspirations of overseas Indian communities throughout the world. Also they are geared for leveraging the potential and capabilities, and harnessing the strength of the diaspora for India’s development.

March 2009

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