The Chinese come calling on T&T; should India raise its game?

Trinidad & Tobago

It’s been 18 years since Basdeo Panday became the first Trinidad and Tobago prime minister of Indian origin

The Chinese President’s first ever trip to Trinidad and Tobago is significant for all sorts of reasons, but perhaps mostly as a sign that India must raise its game in a country that affords it a natural advantage.

Consider this:

Bilateral trade between India and T&T in 2008-09 amounted to US$ 414.23 million while China was at $450 million last year.

Okay, so the Indian figure is not the most recent but it’s from the Indian High Commission’s website in Port of Spain. The High Commission rather vaguely predicts that “trade between the two countries could achieve the target of US $ 500 Millions soon…”

That’s not saying much and whatever it says is not particularly bullish.

Contrast this with Mr Xi’s busy round of activities in Port of Spain.  He signed a memorandum of understanding with Trinidadian Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the Brahmin whose great grandfather Ram Lakhan Mishra left Bhelupur village in Bihar for T&T in October 1889. “We both agree to actively advance co-operation in key areas of energy, minerals and infrastructure development and also to advance our co-operation in new energy, telecommunications and agriculture,” Mr Xi told the media afterwards.

Mrs Persad-Bissessar symbolizes the natural strength of the Indian relationship with T&T. Genetically, the relationship could hardly be stronger – 35.4 per cent of its population is of Indian origin and the Prime Minister herself took note of this on a visit to Bhelupur in January 2012.  “Whatever I am today is because Bihar is in my DNA and whatever my ancestors taught me,” she said at the time.

But genetics does not presage economic relationships. These are forged for more flinty eyed reasons – of presumed profit, expectation and a cost-benefit analysis.

(Barely 3,000 of the twin islands’ population is of Chinese origin.) For China, Trinidad is a natural partner, after its emergence nine years ago as the Western Hemisphere’s leading supplier of liquefied natural gas. For Trinidad, China is, as Mrs Persad-Bissessar said ” a very key business partner and a potential new market for our energy products and for alternative energy research.”

The DNA of the market is very different from genetic linkages.