India’s Growing Relations in Latin America and the Caribbean
K V Prasad

The recent sojourn of External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar to four countries in Latin America and the Caribbean caught the attention of policy makers across different locations while at the domestic and regional level it received praise for his sharp observation in regard to Pakistan and terror.

The Minister’s nine-day journey to Guyana, Panama, Colombia and Dominican Republic reflects the new sense of purpose injected into India’s foreign policy during the past decade through outreach to countries which are far away in terms of geography and demonstrated the importance New Delhi attaches to the region. During the period, there have been over thirty visits by top Indian leadership to the region and a shade more of reciprocal visits to India by leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries.

Soon after independence, India began to establish diplomatic relations with countries in the region with whic it shared cultural and historical ties. This linkage got reinforced when these nations were associated with the Non-Aligned Movement. Yet, over the following decades the trajectory remained rather flat both on account of distance and priority accorded to immediate neighbourhood, Southeast Asia and relationship with major powers. Now there is a determined push to engage with LAC countries with an emphasis on trade and investment translating in areas like energy, IT, minerals and mining and infrastructure.

Trade ties with LAC countries remain dynamic and according to current estimates it is reaching the U.S. $50 billion mark. The emerging picture can be appreciated in a different light when juxtaposed with the trade figures of India with bigger economies like the United States and China, which are in the range of $100 billion plus. At an event, the Minister said that in volume the figure is half of what India does with these two countries.

Over the years, in terms of deeper economic engagement, India extended 40 lines of credit to the tune of approximately $900 million for various projects while completing 20 of these. In Latin America, Indian companies are working on projects such as infrastructure, power transmission and mining, with many countries rich in minerals.

For most cricket-crazy Indians, Guyana is not a distant land as it tugs the hearts with the game. Little wonder that during the visit to Georgetown, Dr. Jaishankar observed that while this was his first visit as the Minister, he would be tempted to return when West Indies play host to the World T20 Cup next year. With nearly 40 per cent of the population of Indian-origin including President Irfaan Ali, India is not a stranger. President Ali is also an alumni of India’s Technical and Economic Cooperation programme. The Indian Council of Cultural Relations-run programme is to build capacity and enhance skill development and human resource. To meet its growing energy requirement, India sources nearly a fifth of its oil imports from countries like Brazil , Colombia and Mexico amid reports of discovery of reserves of oil and natural gas in Guyana

Cricket ties apart, relations with India run deep and issues ranging from tackling emergent problems in the post-Covid era, climate change and climate justice, food and energy security figured during the 4th Ministerial meeting of India-CARICOM, a 15-member states inter-governmental political and economic organisation. India offered to extend support to individual projects through a grant and partner group in India providing machinery, technology and training besides creating a regional hub for low-cost generic medicines for the benefit of low-income consumers.

With the world just about seeing light at the end of the dark Covid19-tunnel which debilitated many economies around the globe, one of the major concerns for the countries in the global south is affordable health care. With its liberal assistance to over 100 countries under the Vaccine Maitri programme, India positioned itself as a global pharmacy.

In this direction, discussions in Panama centred around decentralising production of medicines for the region, besides working together in the field of energy and renewables. With India taking a lead role in the climate action programme and keen on developing alternate sources of energy, working together in the field of renewables formed part of the dialogue. With Panama working on a plan to develop a trading hub as a gateway to the region, New Delhi expressed interest in exploring to create a hub for Indian companies.

Among the countries, the Minister wound up the trip with a visit to the Dominican Republic, a country with which New Delhi established diplomatic relations in 1999 and opened its embassy last year. Interestingly, the need for India to open its mission in Santo Domingo was impressed by its former envoy to India who served here for over 15 years and went on the become the Dean of Diplomatic Corps towards the later part of his posting.

In terms of trade, from a start of $12 million at the turn of the century, it now touched $1 billion and a number of Indian pharma companies are present in the country while a few automobile manufacturers have established local dealerships there.

India-LAC relations are driven by economic engagement and there is an upward swing in this. Political leaders' exchanges too are on the rise and with Argentina, Brazil and Mexico forming part of the G20 countries, the level of engagement has scaled up. These countries also offer a market for India.

With India taking firm steps to advance ties with LAC countries, in the words of External Affairs Minister at an event during February last, New Delhi is working on the goal of moving the country to become a leading power and to move in that direction the country has to “start developing at least the footprint of being global at some point of time and we cannot do it unless we are able to reach every region not…superficially, but have relationships that really count out their investments of substance, cooperation… that is the direction from an Indian perspective that we are looking at the region.’’ The power of quiet diplomacy is clearly at work.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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