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We need stronger ties with India, says Guyana?s President

Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana?s president now in India in connection with Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, is on the fast track to build stronger economic ties with India.

india Updated: Jan 11, 2004 11:17 IST
Ananda Majumdar
Ananda Majumdar

Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana’s young president now in India in connection with the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, is on the fast track to build stronger economic ties with India. He wants greater Indian investment in health and industry. And he has even got an Indian commitment for assistance in building a cricket stadium in Guyana. In an interview with the Hindustan Times, he says the meeting of persons of Indian origin (PIO) is like a ‘trilateral meeting’ for aiding the economic development of his country. Excerpts:

This is your second trip to India in a year. How important have meetings of people of Indian origin been for you?

I would say they are important for several reasons. The reconnection with the past has been good. The reconnection helps people to see this wonderful civilisation. Our children may live in a western environment and may think that all that is not western is inferior. I have no problem with people adopting western values but they must understand their legacy. This makes them more rounded.

Has the PIO meeting enthused people back in Guyana?

There wasn’t so much interest in the past. But since my last trip I have been getting hundreds of emails from people who want to know about their roots. Guyana’s chief justice, Carl Singh, is here. He is from Bihar and he is trying to trace his roots.

Cricket is hugely popular in the Caribbean and two Guyanese of Indian origin, Chanderpaul and Sarwan, are in the West Indian team. Surely that must be a matter of great pride.

Yes. In fact, Chanderpaul is from my village in Guyana. We are also going to get some assistance from India for building a modern cricket stadium for the World Cup in 2007. We have got a commitment from the Prime Minister (Atal Bihari Vajpayee) regarding this. A team from India has already visited us in this connection. I am hoping that the Indian cricket team will make Guyana their home base during the World Cup.

You have invited Indian medical professionals to set up hospitals in Guyana. What is that in connection with?

The state provides the bulk of health care in Guyana. But there has been huge attrition from state institutions, with medical professionals migrating to the US, other parts of the Caribbean, etc. I have with me the director of health services for recruiting medical professionals from India to bridge that gap.

Are you thinking of getting private Indian investment in health care?

Yes. I am prepared at the government level to make it attractive for people to invest in health care in Guyana. And, this need not be for Guyana alone but for the region and the US as part of health tourism. That’s because of the differential in the cost of health care. I was amazed to find that heart surgery in India costs one-tenth of what it does in the US.

Do you have any model in mind?

I got a promise from Apollo Hospital that they would send a team to Guyana to do a feasibility study. But I want to be flexible on the model even though we will give a package of concessions to make investment in health care attractive.

How do you propose to improve economic relations between India and Guyana?

At the moment we have limited bilateral economic relations with India. So far this has been the importation of ethnic-related goods. I am trying to get Indian capital and expertise to Guyana.

Indian companies can capitalise not only on our market but because of the agreement we have on free trade areas, as with Canada, Venezuela, etc, companies investing in Guyana could become transnational. In other words, their products and services need not be for the Guyanese market alone.

Regarding areas of cooperation, I’ll give you one example. Last year, we produced the largest quantity of diamonds in our history. Now we are going to Rajasthan. That’ll be during the present trip. We want people to come to Guyana to set up cutting and polishing units for gems.

You were here last year for the meeting of people of Indian origin and had similar plans for greater economic relations with India. Has there been any improvement since then?

Yes, there has been a lot of progress since last year. There has been an expansion of the ITEC (Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation) programme and this has been good for us. There has also been cooperation in sugar and sports areas.

I have a meeting in India with people from the sugar industry. I specifically want Indian involvement in the modernisation of our sugar industry.

Has there been greater interaction this time with members of the Indian business community?

I have already met people from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Now, I am going to Mumbai to meet representatives from the Confederation of Indian Industry. Our people, generally, have met people from the Indian private sector. I have also had meetings with members of the Indian diaspora. This is like trilateral cooperation because members of the Indian community elsewhere in the world can help us.

First Published: Jan 11, 2004 00:00 IST