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India Attempts to get Warmer with Latin America

Vital for oil imports, the 33-country Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region will now experience attempts by India to foster closer relations, especially since the region also offers a huge market for Indian products and services.

Indian President Ram Nath Kovind is all set to visit Suriname and Cuba between 19th and 24th of June, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be travelling to the region later in the year when Argentina will host the G20 summit.

Building ties with the LAC region has become extremely crucial for India’s foreign policy objectives. New Delhi is now pushing to establish high-level contact that had previously been missing, officials said on Monday.

The first big push under this ambition came in May this year when M. Venkaiah Naidu, Vice-President of India, chose Guatemala, Panama, and Peru as his choice for his first bilateral visits under his designation. This was the first
high-level Indian visit to the three countries in 50 years of diplomatic ties with them.

“The vice-president had already visited three countries in Latin America. MoS (Minister of State V.K. Singh) also visited a couple of countries in Latin America, now the President is going to visit Suriname and Cuba and thereafter, the momentum of visits at the high level to Latin America will be sustained till the end of the year,” said Partha Satpathy, who is Joint Secretary (LAC) at the Ministry of External Affairs.

The Central Government is also drawing up a plan for Indian leaders to visit countries that are rarely focused on at a high level, an official said. Narendra Modi, who has visited Brazil and Mexico under this attempt, will also visit other countries in the region when he goes to Argentina for G20, the official said.

Currently the LAC region counts for approximately 20% of India’s oil imports. Though there have been attempts to not build up a comparison with the trade relation that China shared with the LAC region, India is making attempts in certain spheres to make up for their lag, for example in 2016, India beat China in pharmaceutical exports to LAC. For 2016, India’s exports were USD $651 million in comparison to China’s USD $404 million.

“This is a geographical area from which India can benefit enormously, and neglecting it would be a mistake. Not only does it represent a market of over 600 million people for Indian products and services, but conquering Latin America is a key in India’s journey to become a true world leader and consolidate its global influence,” said Mexico’s Ambassador to India Melba Pria.

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According to Pria, India’s participation in the G20 summit was an excellent opportunity for the country to engage with other countries in the summit to strengthen bilateral ties in the region. Economic experts feel that trade, which has been on a rise, could be the reason that India and LA are brought close.

“India’s trade with Latin America grew by 24% in 2017 and amounted to USD $36.5 billion after experience a decline in 2015,” said R. Viswanathan, a former career diplomat who served in the region. The exports increased by 15% to USD $12.9 billion and imports by 28 % to USD $23.4 billion in 2017.