Interview : Pundit Maniedeo Persad

High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago to India

“A PBD in Trinidad would cement cultural and economic ties”

High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago in New Delhi, H.E. Pundit Maniedeo Persad, spoke to Editor Sayantan Chakravarty on enhancing ties between the two nations. His interview was conducted around the time the new India – Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce (ITT Chamber) was launched in Port of Spain

You have been the High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago in India for well over five years. In that period commercial and cultural exchanges between the two nations have increased manifold, and relations have been greatly strengthened. Now we see the formation of the new India-Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, set to launch on October 6, 2009. What do you think the ITT CHAMBER needs to do to contribute to this process of strengthening relations, including those that are commercial and diplomatic?
The formation of a Chamber based on strengthening business relations between Trinidad and Tobago and India is a welcome step. As a new Chamber, the India - Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce (ITTCIC) may wish to focus on the growth areas identified by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the sectors targeted for investment. They may wish also to establish direct links with business Chambers in India by establishing MOUs so as to facilitate greater interaction and the transfer of information directly between the membership of Indian chambers and the ITTCIC.

During your tenure, India has turned into the 4th largest investor in Trinidad and Tobago. This is indeed highly commendable, especially after taking into account the considerable geographical distances between the two countries. Do you see the ITT CHAMBER furthering the process of investments?
The High Commission in New Delhi has established the following priorities:
(a) to promote investment inflows into Trinidad and Tobago;
(b) to increase bilateral trade in particular finding markets for Trinidad and Tobago exports and sourcing inputs from Asia of goods and services for local business;
(c) to increase training opportunities for our nationals in areas of our interest;
(d) identifying, accessing and referring to Trinidad and Tobago new and emerging technology and other developments that may be of value to us;
(e) to promote Trinidad and Tobago as a destination of choice to Asian companies with a strategy to access Caribbean and Latin American markets.

Some of the successes in our bilateral relations include: 
(a) ESSAR Steel 1.8 billion USD investment in Trinidad and Tobago;
(b) Bank of Baroda establishment of offices in October 2007;
(c) The first ever Bollywood film shot on location in Trinidad and Tobago in 2007, the music for this movie was launched in Trinidad on 22nd November, 2008;
(d) Increase in business travel to Trinidad and Tobago by over 600%;
(e) On the energy front, ONGC Mittal has won an offshore gas block;
(f) Signing of the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Act (BIPPA). 
As such, the High Commission in New Delhi would be more than pleased to assist the ITT CHAMBER in furthering the process of investment in Trinidad and Tobago or any other area in keeping with our mandate.

Arrivals to Trinidad and Tobago from India have increased by over 600 per cent in the last five years. Do you see an increase in business tourism if the ITT CHAMBER is able to work in synergy with other chambers in India?
Definitely. As the ITT CHAMBER develops it may want to leverage a major opportunity presented by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) carded for 2009 in Trinidad and Tobago. During this period the Commonwealth Business Forum will be held which will afford many opportunities for interaction with businesses from India and other countries of the Commonwealth. With greater economic interaction we can expect increased travel from India to Trinidad and Tobago.

In 2008 and then again in 2009, you launched and headed two Trade and Investment Missions from South Asia to Trinidad and Tobago. Those missions were preceded by a mission to India from Trinidad and Tobago in 2007 led by former Minister Ken Valley. In many ways the ITT CHAMBER formation has come as a result of the momentum provided by those missions. Your comments…
I met Mr Deo Gosine earlier this year and in discussions mechanisms were explored so as to assist in developing bilateral relations between Trinidad and Tobago and India. I must compliment him on this initiative which can add positive value to the developing economic relations between Trinidad and Tobago and India. 

At this stage, would you encourage the ITT CHAMBER to partner other chambers of commerce and industry both within Trinidad and Tobago, and in India?
As mentioned earlier the ITT CHAMBER may wish to consider establishing MOUs with Chambers in India where areas of mutual cooperation can be pursued.

The CHOGM is being held in Trinidad and Tobago in November. What are the gains that you foresee for your country from an event of such magnitude?
As you may be aware earlier this year Trinidad and Tobago also hosted the Summit of the Americas which saw the attendance of thirty four (34) Heads of Government.
With respect to CHOGM in November, the Commonwealth Business Forum will be an opportunity for Trinidad and Tobago to showcase itself amongst the Commonwealth countries attending.
We would like to invite leaders of Indian industry to use this opportunity to visit Trinidad and Tobago and evaluate first hand the many opportunities that Trinidad and Tobago offer.

There are chances that a regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas may be held in the Caribbean in the near future. The PBD is not just a meeting place of People of Indian Origin and NRIs, it is also a place where business interests are furthered. Trinidad and Tobago is ideally placed to host such an event, labeled as it is as the conference capital of the Caribbean. Would you pursue the hosting of such an event with the Government of India?
Actually I had earlier suggested to the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs that Trinidad and Tobago would be an ideal location to host a mini Pravasi Bharatiya Divas particularly focused on the Caribbean region. Should India consider hosting the mini Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Port of Spain, there will be mutual benefits. Trinidad and Tobago has the capacity to host international conferences as evidenced by the Summit of Americas in April and CHOGM in November this year. 
Additionally such a conference has the potential to showcase Trinidad and Tobago to the delegates attending from other diaspora countries. It should be noted that Singapore had done exactly that in October 2008.

With respect to the Caribbean Indian Diaspora, it would be in my view, a great sense of pride that recognition has been given to this element of the Diaspora by India in hosting such a conference in Trinidad and Tobago, and would cement closer cultural and economic ties. 

October 2009

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