Published August 5, 2012 | 12:40 pm
By Manish Chand
As China spreads its growing tentacles across Latin America, India is moving to forge a multi-layered partnership with the resource-rich region that is projected to be the next big frontier for Indian diplomacy.
Building upon its cumulative expansion of trade with the region which has now reached $25 billion and investments touching $15 billion, India will host its maiden dialogue with a troika of foreign ministers of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Tuesday.
At this first India-CELAC Troika foreign ministerial meeting, External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna will lead the Indian delegation. Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno Charme, his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro and Cuban Vice Foreign Minister Rogelio Sierra will be the members of the troika.
The choice of CELAC is significant to flag off a marked acceleration of India’s multi-faceted ties with the region as the grouping of 33 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has emerged a powerful platform for asserting its identity and its collective regional aspirations. The region is home to 600 million inhabitants, nearly half the population of India but with a landmass five times that of India.
CELAC is also the face of the new resurgent Latin America, which has become one of the growth poles of the world economy with a GDP of $4.9 trillion (four times that of India). The region has also shaken off its reputation as a home of brutal dictatorships with most Latin American countries turning into functional democracies.
It is against this backdrop that a new India, which is growing at a rate of seven percent in times of a global slowdown and has proven prowess in IT and knowledge industries, is seeking to scale up ties with a new Latin America.
Latin America’s attractions for India are myriad. “The region is going to play an increasingly important role in energy security for India.
Currently, Latin America contributes around 10 percent of India’s crude oil imports. The region has 15 percent of global reserves and new discoveries of oil will ensure that it will become more important for India’s energy security,” R. Viswanathan, a Latin America enthusiast and a former ambassador to Argentina, told IANS.
“Similarly, Latin America will be crucial for India’s food security.
It is already a significant source of edible oils,” he added.
The dialogue with CELAC is part of a slew of diplomatic initiatives by India to accelerate engagement with this fast-growing region. The meeting will discuss ways to institute an India-Latin America and Caribbean Dialogue Mechanism similar to that of the India-Africa Forum Summit that started in 2008.
Besides the imperatives of energy and food security and the attractions of the burgeoning Latin American market, what is driving India to deepen its diplomatic and economic footprints despite continental distances in the region is the growing presence of China.
India’s trade with Latin America has grown to $25 billion, not an insignificant amount, but nearly 10 times smaller than that of China with the region, which is estimated at around $235 billion. Therefore, there is little prospect of rivalry or competition between India and China in the region as Beijing is in a different league. But India’s engagement has its own strengths that can’t be compared to that of China, noted Sonia Gupta, the head of department of the Centre for European and Latin American studies at the Jamia Millia Islamia.
“No doubt, China has a huge presence in Latin America. But India, too, has its core strengths in IT, knowledge industries and capacity building which are much sought after in the region,” said Gupta.
But, even as India has carved out a reputation in niche areas, New Delhi needs to scale up its efforts on multiple fronts to leverage the full potential of the region.
“Yet, with this new decade come new challenges. If we want to realise the full potential of India-LAC ties, the density of these exchanges needs to be increased. This implies institutionalising them, making them part of the regular agenda of the government and the private sector,” said Jorge Heine, a former ambassador of Chile to India and co-author of “The Dark Side of Globalization”.
M. Ganapathi, secretary (West) in the external affairs ministry, is confident that this last frontier will be conquered and converted into a mutually empowering partnership. ians