By Rajeev Sharma
Normally, Trinidad and Tobago does not have much media coverage in India. Not even if itis the largest among all small nation states that constitute the Caribbean. And yet, Trinidad and Tobago is justifiably in the lime light because its Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the first woman of Indian origin to reach this position, is currently on a state visit to India (January 5-14, 2012). The importance of this visit from the Caribbean tiny dot nation is two-fold. One, this is the first state visit of the year. Two, this also happens to be the first state visit by a woman Head of Government of Indian origin. Kamla is accompanied by seven ministers and two prominent cricket stars of the region:Brian Lara and Daren Ganga.
India rolled out the red carpet to Kamla and engaged with her at the top most political level. Apart from the fact that she held delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday, she also had discussions with President Pratibha Patil, Vice-President Hamid Ansari and External Affairs Minister SM Krishna. Kamla’s main official engagements in New Delhi concluded on Friday itself after which she is to visit Jaipur for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas as the Chief Guest where she is to be conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award.
The foreign dignitary will be in Bihar on January 11where she will visit Bhelupur, her ancestral village in Buxar, apart from her visits to Indian metropolises like Kolkata and Mumbai. During the delegation-level talks between the two Prime Ministers on Friday, the two sides vowed to intensify their bilateral cooperation. Five MoUs were signed: one pertaining to culture, one in technical education, two pertaining to Department of Ayush (one is for technical cooperation in traditional medicine and the second one is for establishing an Ayurvedi Chair in the University of West Indies), and the fifth is bilateral air services agreement..
The importance of Trinidad and Tobago cannot be over-emphasised as people of Indian origin constitute about 42 per cent of the population there, and are part and parcel of the economic, political and social fabric of the country. For atleast half a decade, India has been pursuing vigorously its far-abroad diplomacy and strengthening ties with the Latin American and Caribbean region.This is reflected by the fact that in 2010 India’s trade with the LatinAmerican and Caribbean region was US$ 23 billion and cumulative investments in that region were estimated to be about US$ 15 billion.
India’s pro-active engagement with this region, known in the diplomatic circles as LACcountries, is to be seen in the larger context of New Delhi’s aspirations for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council where every singlevote counts. Trinidad and Tobago supported India for the nonpermanent membership of the UNSC and voted for India. As regards the permanent membership, many of the smaller countries constitute and work together as groups, and they work within what is called the CARICOM. It consists of various other countries in the region. CARICOM has a generic view on this rather than Trinidad and Tobago individually. They work within the parameters of that viewi n the United Nations. It is this big picture that is the template for India’s diplomatic outreach to every nook and corner of the globe.
People-to-people interaction and exchanges constitute an important part of India’s bilateralrelations with Trinidad and Tobago. People of Indian origin constitute about 42per cent of the population there, and are part and parcel of the economic, political and social fabric of the country. These historic and cultural linkages have become stronger with time. In 1966, India established the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Cultural Cooperation in Port of Spain. The Indian Councilof Cultural Relations (ICCR), an important tool for cultural diplomacy, has also set up long-term Chairs on contemporary Indian studies and on Hindi.Indian cultural troupes regularly visit Trinidad and Tobago. The Government ofTrinidad and Tobago, since January 2011, has relaxed visa requirements forIndian nationals for tourism and business purposes, if the period of stay doesnot exceed 90 days.
The outlook for bilateral trade between India and Trinidad and Tobago has considerable potential. Indian exports have grown exponentially from US$ 8.8 million in 2001 to approximately US$ 420 million in 2008-09. However, during the last two years bilateral trade has declined on account of shortfall of Liquefied Natural Gas(LNG) exports of Trinidad and Tobago to India and also due to global economic recession. The bilateral trade between India and Trinidad and Tobago was pegged at a modest figure of $ 140 million. Indian exports include drugs and pharmaceuticals, iron and steel, petroleum products, IT services, autocomponents and gems and jewelry.
Trinidadand Tobago is rich in oil and gas resources and has the largest and most vibrant economy in the Caribbean. Indian companies have evinced interest ininvesting in gas and petrochemicals sector. India also offers 30 ITEC training slots annually to Trinidad and Tobago nationals for training in Indian institutions. Indian companies like Essar, Indraprastha Gas Limited (IPL) and Reliance are already negotiating for investing in Trinidad and Tobago’s oil, fertilizersand chemicals sectors. Reliance is interested to invest about a billion dollarin a bitumen plant.
In today’s world where distances have shrunk drastically, India needs to get morepro-active in pursuing its far abroad diplomacy. The on going visit of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago is a part of this process. India has woken upquite late to the importance of its far abroad and China has already stolen a march over India in this regard. China’s presence in Latin America and theCaribbean is already phenomenal. India must take the cue from China in pursuing a vigorous diplomacy all over the world and economic diplomacy is, and shouldbe, an important tool to make India a truly global power.