He has been called the man who made agriculture sexy again, breathing life into a dying sector that had been languishing forgotten and in distress for decades.
Now Trade, Industry and Investment Minster Vasant Bharath has been charged with making Trinidad and Tobago a desirable place to do business – for both local and foreign investors.
As Minister of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs, Bharath, whose portfolio was shifted in the Prime Minister's Cabinet reshuffle last month, gained the trust of the major stakeholders in the industry by discussing and implementing strategies for growth in the sector, often building on what was already there.
He intends to do the same in his new ministry, and one of the things he's going to tackle are the numerous trade agreements that have been signed between T&T and several other countries, the potential of which may not been maximised.
"One of the things we haven't really done well as a government is created the environment (for trade and market expansion). We've gone out and we've signed agreements but they are just essentially on paper. We've not gone out and subsequently created an environment for our manufacturers to aggressively attack the new markets. And that's my intention, to look at these agreements and see where we can genuinely compete and really get the manufacturers to go out there. This is something I did as a manufacturer, as chairman of the Exports Committee in the late eighties of the TTMA. We led delegations in Colombia and Paraguay and we were able to create healthy markets there by being able to go out there and understanding what we can compete with and what we can't," he told the Business Express after delivering the feature presentation at a Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers' Association breakfast meeting last Monday at the Hyatt Regency (Trinidad) in Port of Spain.
Coming from a businessman's background means Bharath understands the frustrations of local manufacturers, and he has put high on his list of priorities, improving the efficiency of the Port systems including, the perennial problem for local businessmen who do foreign trade, Customs and Excise clearance.
His capacity as Minister in the Ministry of Finance allows Bharath the flexibility to evaluate the operations of Customs and Excise, and get rid of some of the red tape that traders have to deal with.
In the 2011/2012 World Economic Forum Global Competitive Index for Burden of Customs Procedures, Trinidad and Tobago – one of Caricom's biggest economies – ranks a paltry 126 out of 142 countries.
"My intention is to excite the local private sector by removing these impediments regarding issues with clearing goods coming into the country and other regulatory issues that really ought not to be issues. Those are the things that have created a situation where Trinidad and Tobago is ranked relatively lowly in ease of doing business," he said.
There's also the issue of $5 billion in excess liquidity just sitting in local banks not being utilised productively, he said.
"Many of business people want to invest their money – that's what the private sector does – to get a return on their investment and leaving it in a bank is eroding their capital because of the rate of inflation," he says.
But they need to have something to invest in, he says, and the level of frustration of doing business is off-putting.
"These are things we need to work on," he said.
Attracting foreign direct investment into the country is also paramount for Bharath.
"We've not had any foreign direct investment in the most recent past. We've had a number of people who have shown serious interest but they are at the point where they are looking at various markets, risk and reward factors. It's up to us now to go after them aggressively and say this is Trinidad and Tobago and this is why you should be here," he said.
Foreign investors who are coming to invest are going to look at how stable the environment is, what local investors are doing and whether they have parked themselves. I intend to go out and actively seek new investors into Trinidad in both oil and non-oil manufacturing sectors, but my first port of call is to make sure local investors are happy about the environment we are setting."
The fundamental way to do this, Bharath believes, is making it easier and less frustrating for investors to gain approvals and permits from different government agencies.
"It is unacceptable that people have to run from agency to agency to get approvals. It's frustrating and eventually they just give up. We have to ensure that what has taken six months to do previously will only take a month," he said.
He proposes a one-stop shop where investors can go to gain all approvals fast. And he intends to get it off the ground equally fast – within three months.
"If we can clear the way for those things to be done easier then we will see investors coming back into the market place," he says.