Couva chamber, high commission to unlock Trinidad and Tobago, India trade

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Dr Pradeep Singh Rajpurohit

THE HIGH Commissioner of India to TT, Dr. Pradeep Singh Rajpurohit, is pushing for his office to act as a business intermediary between India and TT in an effort to unlock the vast untapped economic potential he said he envisions between the two countries.

The two countries have cultural and ethnic ties that are not particularly reflected in the types of industries behind trade, nor the overall value of trade.

Rajpurohit, spurred on by the government’s economic development and trade agenda, is seeking to close the gaps and personally assist local industries and chambers to establish ties to India.

The High Commission held an open discussion with Couva/Point Lisas Chamber of Commerce members on Thursday, and shared with them the contact details for a number of business associations, chambers, and export promotion councils for products like spices, cashews, silk products, seeds, and oils, leather products, and other industries contributing to India’s economic expansion.

From India’s perspective, its exports to TT have seen underwhelming numbers. Its exports to TT increased from US$93.27 million in 2021-2022 to US$104.93 million, only to decline to US$90.11 million over the past year.

Vehicles, parts, and accessories accounted for India’s most significant export to TT, totaling US$16.42 million between April 2023 to January 2024. India also exported iron and steel (US$12.76 million), pharmaceutical products (US$11.29 million), plastic and plastic articles (US$9.03 million); and articles of iron and steel (US$3.93 million).

TT’s export figures have risen recently but there still has room for growth, Rajpurohit found. TT’s petroleum-dominated exports to India saw a decline from $112.2 million in 2021-2022 to $91.26 million a year later, largely owing to global covid19 public health restrictions and large-scale freight issues, but picked up dramatically to a record high of $212.51 million 2023-2024. Mineral Fuels, mineral oils, and products of their distillation; bituminous substances; and mineral waxes accounted for the largest exports from TT to India, totaling US$194.23 million for the same period, followed by iron and steel (US$11.08 million), ores, slag and ash (US$4.67 million), aluminium and articles thereof (US$0.67 million); and pulp of wood or of other fibrous cellulose material, and waste and scrap of paper or paperboard (US$0.54 million).

Rajpurohit was adamant those figures could grow by establishing industry-specific trade relations and robust collaborations between chambers of commerce in both countries. “Business,” he said, “is not about the government (but about) developing the private sector. “Some effort is required but we see a lot of promise.”

An audience member who works at a freight company said there was a recent complaint by a customer about high freight cost for a shipment from India.

Rajpurohit replied, saying he believes India’s freight rates are generally priced according to global standards, and if there is a marginal difference, the low-cost, high-quality goods, of which India is known for, would usually make up for it.

Language, he stressed, is also not a barrier between the two countries. He said the country’s business calendar is always full of events and offered to share it with the Couva chamber and TT’s business community at large so they can participate and build ties.

The High Commission has long promoted tourism and made travel to the country as seamless as possible. Rajpurohit said the office will further prioritize logistical assistance to the business community traveling to India for meetings and trade events.

India’s currently boasts the world’s fifth largest economy, up five places from 2014. It is the global leader in three-wheeler and tractor manufacturing and the second-largest smartphone manufacturer. It is also the second-largest steel producer.

According to the New Delhi Department of Commerce, India has achieved US$13.29 billion in exports to the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region between April 2023-February 2024, while it has imported US$19.37 billion worth of goods from the same region. India’s exports specifically to the Caribbean for the same period were approximately US$6.27 billion. Excluding Mexico, India’s total bilateral trade with the LAC was US$32.67 billion.

The five top categories of commodities exported by India to the region were mineral fuels and mineral oils; pharmaceutical products; iron and steel; vehicles other than railway or tramway; and nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery, and mechanical appliances.

Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh gave a brief address at the meeting and encouraged the business community to circumvent their foreign exchange woes.

“At the end of the day, we are at a stage where we need all the economic enterprise that can help to build the foreign reserves of TT,” Indarsingh said, “which has and continues to be depleted (and) is a cause for concern for all members of the business community… all over TT. “It is an established fact that there is some kind of foreign exchange squeeze and crunch. “And when we ask, and I hear from members of the business community, sometimes they are running their business enterprises simply by using credit cards because they cannot access the foreign exchange that is needed for raw materials and supplies, and to facilitate trade and development.”