Thursday 11th August 2005


Five-fold growth in trade under Gupta

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There should be a certain moral ethics when you are doing business. I cannot accept businessmen charging an unreasonable amount of profits Indian High Commissioner Virendra Gupta

By Anthony Wilson

Indian High Commissioner Virendra Gupta leaves his posting in T&T in the next few weeks having transformed and expanded his country’s relationship with T&T.

In an interview last week, Gupta agreed that the ongoing India/Caricom Economic Forum being held at the Centre of Excellence in Macoya was the pinnacle of his achievement.

The forum brings together regional Ministers of Trade and business leaders and their counterparts from India in a move aimed at deepening the commercial and economic links between India and the Caribbean.

The forum is the largest ever initiative by India to promote those linkages, Gupta says adding that it also signifies the attention and importance that India is beginning to attach to its relationship with the Caricom countries.

“You might understand that today economics and commerce are important constituency in a country’s foreign policy and diplomacy,” Gupta says.

When he was posted to T&T four years ago, Gupta says he found the bilateral relationship between India and T&T “not entirely to my satisfaction.”

While there were extensive cultural, academic and people linkages, “not much was happening on the economic and commercial fronts.”

It seemed to him that there was some complementarity between the two economies as India had begun to liberalise its economy, had emerged on the world scene assuming leadership in many sectors, including pharmaceuticals and information technology and had established itself as a reliable supplier of quality goods and services.

“So I asked myself why were things not happening between our two countries,” Gupta says, which meant that his immediate priority was to raise the profile in terms of economic and commercial exchanges and co-operation.

Gupta’s method for raising the economic and commercial profile was to facilitate direct contact between the two business communities.

He says that his predecessors had made similar attempts to raise the economic and commercial profile but “those efforts were not rewarded fully.” This was because, the envoy says, while efforts were being made at the government levels, there was not adequate interface between the business communities.

“The governments’ involvement is necessary to create a favourable climate” to the business communities to trade.

Gupta’s method was to organise business delegations and trade fairs from India and visits by locals to India (including several members of the media).

In the last three years, the Indian High Commission organised official trade fairs in September 2003 and June 2004 as well as the Indian/Caricom Economic Forum.

These trade fairs created awareness at the peoples’ level and among businessmen that there were business opportunities in India.

“I’m so happy that in the last four years these efforts have paid very rich dividends—our bilateral trade has grown nearly four or five times in the last four years,” moving to $300 million today from $50 to $60 million.

Gupta says he is convinced that the trade relationship has not reached its full potential as yet.

In the context of India’s position as one of the largest economies in the world and T&T being a possible bridgehead for Indian exports into the entire Caribbean market, Gupta sees the trade developing from $300 million today to $1 billion within five years.

When the trade was at $60 million four years ago, the business community in India was not all that interested in T&T and the Caribbean, but if it is taken to $1 billion “it would be at a substantive level.”

The relationship has not only been about trade in goods. Gupta personally facilitated the signing of a co-operation agreements between Satyam and MBM, the Ansa McAl subsidiary—for which he was highly complimented at the launch of the relationship in June.

And last week, the Business Guardian reported that a subsidiary of the massive Tata group was in T&T seeking to develop its relationship with Esprit, an offshoot of Ernst &Young.

Gupta says although India has been successful in increasing its exports to T&T, this has mostly been in traditional goods such as clothes and textiles, pharmaceuticals and food.

He wants to build on the traditional goods but also add exports from India of sports goods, electrical fixtures, hand tools, car parts and others.

Last year, just before the trade fair, Gupta was sharply criticised for claiming that the local importers of Indian goods were charging profit margins that were too high.

Asked about his comments last week, Gupta says he remains committed to the idea that “there should be a certain moral ethics when you are doing business.

“I cannot accept businessmen charging an unreasonable amount of profits.”

He suggests that the way to increase profits is by increasing the volume of goods sold not by hiking the price.

The diplomat says India wants to build upon the relationship with the people of the Indian Diaspora in this country.

“But, we don’t want the relationship only to service the people of the Indian Diaspora. We want to take the relationship beyond that.”

Everything the diplomatic mission did in the last four years, Gupta says, was meant to reach out to all sections of T&T’s population and not just the Indian descendants.

“I realised that there was a huge potential in terms of upgrading our relationship here and everything I did in the last four years was directed to achieving that objective of creating a balance and increasing the outreach of the mission to all sections of the Trinidadian population.”

As an example of the outreach, Gupta facilitated the participation of a dance troop from India in the Prime Minister’s Best Village festival for the first time.

“I thought it was an opportunity for us to make a statement that we were supportive of the festival,” he says.

“We thought that this was, on the Government’s part, an acknowledgement that Indian culture was not something alien to Trinidad, that Indian culture was really a part of T&T culture.”




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