A new body has been formed known as the India-Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce. It comes at a time when India is the fourth largest investor in Trinidad and diplomatic relations between the two nations are completing 40 years in October. What are your views on this new body?
I think it is a very welcome formation. It comes at a time when India is a leader of the developing world. There is much to be learnt from India and it will benefit both nations.
What do you think should be the thrust areas of business and commerce for this new organization?
At the moment our trading relationship is dominated by energy products, but the time now is to diversify from energy products, and by definition, widen the scope of the relationship. There are several areas in which we will be able to deal at a new level, and our relationship will be beneficial.
What kind of synergy do you see taking place between the ITTCC and the Ministry of Trade and Industry?
Our role is one of a facilitator and to this end we will be happy to be a facilitation device for the new chamber. The formation of the new chamber represents an important step in the deepening of relations between our two countries. We want to encourage new businesses that come in to Trinidad and Tobago, particularly those that wish to manufacture and export. We will remain a facilitation device. We would be looking to further distribution arrangements in the region. We are close to the Latin American mainland and our country provides an opportunity for distribution in Latin America. Our countries have a common heritage, and in many ways a common culture. Establishing the chamber at this juncture will be very beneficial.
In recent times we have had one trade mission led by former Minister Ken Valley from Trinidad to Asia, including India, and two missions led by H.E. Pundit Maniedeo Persad to Trinidad. How important are these missions towards developing and strengthening long-term economic linkages between our two nations?
They are critical for strengthening linkages. In the end, it is about human relationships. Meeting somebody, and working with people are stepping stones to establishing long term relationships. I took advantage of my very first visit to India to meet with business entities as well. Clearly there is an interest on both sides. Trade missions are important for breaking the ice, they must be done repeatedly. I can go back and tell a big story about India, but in the end people from my country need to come and see for themselves the opportunities that are present. Trust can be built only by interacting and going places.
What are your impressions about India on your very first visit?
India is a land of contrast. It has a strong culture, a long history and is a vibrant place, a place with plenty of life. There is poverty, and underdevelopment, but clearly people are going about their businesses, much progress is being done. You can see there is so much movement, development, and of course construction. Huge activity is going on. I’m impressed by the level of enterprise and energy in India.
What were the most important gains from the WTO meet?
WTO, and this round of negotiations, had been paused for three years. Well, paused is a nice way of saying that they were stalled. The negotiators are now charged by dealing with problem areas and sorting them out in 10 days, things which had not been sorted in three years. There is a sense of urgency. There is a level of commitment. There is a willingness to visit all positions, and negotiate in a way that’ll benefit all, create a win-win, especially given the world economic situation. I also would like to praise the Indian leadership, especially Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, for his vision, and also Minister Anand Sharma with whom I had a very positive meeting indeed.
This was a meeting of about 30 trade ministers, but in a sense you represented many others in different blocks…
Yes, indeed. There were the EU commissioners representing the European Union, Burkina Faso was representing the ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States with 79 members), Trinidad and Tobago spoke on behalf of the CARICOM, Malaysia represented a group of 33 nations, and Australia and Tanzania represented other groups. So, effectively of the 150 plus members, the majority was represented.
What is your message for the new India-Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce?
Let us get on with it. All great things start from small beginnings. It is a time to develop and move forward. This is an opportunity for positive growth and positive movement.