H. E. Mr. Chandradath Singh

H. E. Mr. Chandradath Singh
H. E. Mr. Chandradath Singh

Trinidad and Tobago has had a long association with Indians who today constitute a major percentage of the population. Asia News Agency spoke with the High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago to get his views on the role played by the people of Indian origin in his country as also on a variety of other bilateral issues.

ANA: It was in 1845 that the first ship carrying 225 indentured workers from India came to Trinidad, then a British colony. Their numbers increased with subsequent arrivals. The descendants of those workers are now in their fifth generation and form nearly 42% of the population. Excellency what has been the contribution of this community to the overall development of your country?

H.E.: Like all other communities comprising the rich and multi-ethnic population of Trinidad and Tobago, the East Indian community played a critical role in converting the Island’s Plantation Economy, which in its early stages produced sugar to enrichen expatriate planters, to a dynamic and progressive one. East Indian Immigrants from India, accustomed to working in the sugarcane fields, not only helped to turn around the failing sugar industry but helped saved the European Planters from bankruptcy. Trinidad and Tobago is today the financial capital of the Caribbean and the largest recipient per capita, of direct foreign investment in the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean. We have a literacy rate of 98%, a highly skilled labour force and a rich and vibrant culture. The East Indian community played an integral role in this economic transformation and continues to contribute in every aspect of national life towards our goal of making Trinidad and Tobago a first world nation. This contribution is evidenced by the election of the first female Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago who is of East Indian origin.

ANA: Is there a downside to the presence of the Indian community in Trinidad and Tobago since it has kept its cultural and religious customs intact?

H.E.: On the contrary, East Indian cultural and religious practices in Trinidad and Tobago transcends ethnic lines. You might be surprised to know that, for example, in a population of 1.3 million, there are at least six (6) radio stations broadcasting Indian music 24 hours, seven days per week. This high level of acceptance of each other's cultural and religious practices is in fact the experience of all ethnic groups in Trinidad and Tobago. We are a true example to the world of multi ethnic and multi religious harmony. Looking at cultural trends in India today, I believe that Indians might be taken aback by the extent at which authentic and traditional Indian culture and religion are practiced in Trinidad and Tobago.

ANA: Both countries are parliamentary democracies that achieved independence from the British. Has this been a factor in developing positive relations between the two countries? And Excellency, what is your assessment of the status of bilateral relations between India and Trinidad and Tobago?

H.E.: The fact that Trinidad and Tobago and India are Parliamentary Democracies has helped to strengthen a relationship between us that has been built upon the more solid grounds of historical, cultural and social ties. Our common legal systems and a shared vision for a safer world, particularly for our women and children as well as the poor and disabled, are factors that have helped to strengthen relationship between our two countries and peoples.

ANA: Trinidad and Tobago has experienced consistent GDP growth since it adopted economic reforms in the early 1990s. The country however, experienced negative growth in 2009. If this was because of the recession, has the impact reduced considering the close integration of your country with the US whose economy is still going through a rough patch?

H.E.: Moody's Investor Services recently released its annual sovereign report on Trinidad and Tobago and stated that T&T's Baa1 government bond ratings and stable outlook are supported by relatively high levels of economic development, a very strong external position, still low government debt levels, and a solid institutional framework. The report stated that the per capita GDP is almost the median of Baa sovereigns, the result of our key energy sector. The report went on to state that T&T's formal fiscal saving mechanisms, which led to savings of 18% of GDP, have strong support across the political spectrum and were an example of the country’s strong institutions. The United States is Trinidad and Tobago's largest trading partner, absorbing 52%of our exports and providing 31% of our import needs (2009). During this period, T&T’s domestic exports to the U.S. were valued at $TT 29 billion while imports totalled TT $ 13.5 billion.

ANA: Excellency, where does India figure in the list of priority countries in terms of the potential for economic partnership? We ask this question in the light of the fact that bilateral trade during 2010-2011 (April to September) stood at a mere US$94.66 million as compared to US$145.10 million for the same period of 2009-2010.

H.E.: India is high on Trinidad and Tobago's priority list given its emergence as man economic superpower and increased role in International affairs. The figures you quoted do not give a true representation of the significant relationship between T&T and India. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago wants to pursue an economic partnership with India that is mutually beneficial and focused on reciprocity and social development. Trinidad and Tobago also wants to facilitate greater trade in goods and services with India and also increase investment as well as strengthen protection for investment activities.

With a wide range of incentives available for foreign investors, and a growing number of mid-size Indian companies, with the appetite and means to invest abroad, India definitely figures at the top of the list as potential investment partners for Trinidad and Tobago. Indian investors are not only impressed with the politically stable and investment friendly environment in T&T but also our strategic location to penetrate the wider Latin American and Caribbean markets. Major Indian companies which have already established a presence in T&T are MITTALS, ESSAR, Bank of Baroda and New India Insurance Company.

ANA: Dwelling on the same subject, Excellency what in your opinion are the areas where there is potential for expanding trade with India and what are the investment incentives on offer for the Indian business community?

H.E.: As far as trade is concerned, Trinidad and Tobago is already an established and attractive location for the export from India of pharmaceuticals, apparel, handicraft, religions items, art work, and food stuff. There are already a good number of Indian restaurants in T&T and the market for Indian music, movies and live performances are well established. Indians are welcomed to invest in the hotel and tourism sector, particularly in establishing spas and wellness centres.

Opportunities for investment are also available in downstream gas processing, fisheries, agriculture, glass manufacture, alternative energy, oil and gas exploration, financial services and telecommunication. Incentives for Indian business interests include: tax incentives, ownership of building for commercial and residential purposes, repatriation of funds including 100 % profits, guaranteed by law.

ANA: Cultural ties are obviously strong and this is perhaps largely due to the presence of a large Indian community. But little is known in India about the cultural strengths of the Caribbean community. This may be a misconception on our part. Excellency, could you brief us on plans to showcase the culture of Trinidad and Tobago in India?

H.E.: You are correct, it is expensive and difficult to mount cultural shows across India and this contributes to the lack of knowledge among Indians about the "true colours" of Trinidad and Tobago's rich and dynamic culture. To solve this problem, I am working on the possibilities of twinning arrangements between cities in T&T and India. The twinning experience is effective because it encourages reciprocal visits by Burgess from both sides and there could be no better way to expose the culture of a country than by people to people contact. I am also working with local cultural groups and individuals to mount a series of shows using performers from both T&T and India. I am discussing the possibilities of collaboration between the Government of T&T and Goa for the development of carnival in which we have tremendous expertise and experience. I am looking at way sin which we could introduce Trinidad and Tobago's design capabilities in the fast growing Indian fashion industry.

There is much more in the pipeline and we hope to get there soon beginning with a series of concerts focused on fusion works between T&T and Indian musicians. In this experiment, Indians will be exposed to the versatility and uniqueness of the "Steel Pan" of Trinidad and Tobago which is the only new instrument created in the 20th century.

ANA: Excellency, you are aware Asia News Agency is the original and only diplomatic news consultancy in India. What are your views on its 39 year old journal News behind the News (NbN) that is tailor-made specifically for the Indian based diplomatic community?

H.E.: I not only enjoy reading your publication but I benefit tremendously from your analysis of major events taking place in India, particularly in the political scene. It is also good to be on the same page, through your magazine, with colleagues in the diplomatic corps whose views on events here and in their respective countries make interesting reading.