India & Latin America and The Caribbean: Recasting a Relationship into Complementary and Synergetic Partnership

India & Latin America BY Dattesh D. Parulekar *

Women's Empowerment and Equal Opportunities Initiatives in Paraguay

Burgeoning ties, between a continental sized sovereign entity (India) and a transcontinental expanse (Latin America), within the Global South, are seldom the hobbyhorse of discussion, hence, an exercise in its build, could hardly be commonplace and facile.

Notwithstanding the empirical historicity of anodyne equations, impaired, by yawning geographical detachment, differentiated cultural and linguistic antecedence, and divergently espoused ideologically ordained strategic orientations in times gone by, the contemporary potential and promise in productive exchanges towards fostering a mutually beneficial India-Latin America relationship, remains nevertheless circumscribed, by cognitive and structural constraints, emanating from mutually held stereotypical conceptions. India-Latin America engagement, has intermittently, been adversely impacted, by collateral elements within systemic contours, yet, should it efficaciously collectivise, it equally reposes the wherewithal, to contribute to meaningfully shaping the global firmament and institutional processes, at a time of lateralising canvass and diffusing trajectory of global commons governance. Pithily put, the interface behoves a recasting.

The narrative of abiding political relations has been one, of tepid schmooze and anaemic dialogue; sporadic on incidence, platitudes-high inadequately configured content, and notional in profile. This, despite the fact that, Latin America, in recent years, finds itself smitten in the curious irony, where, it’s the least touched of regions by the gallivanting footprint of a globally barnstorming Indian Prime Minister, yet, under his helm-ship since 2014, India has expanded its institutionalised foreign office dialogue, across a wide swath, spanning more than two dozen, of the region’s sovereigns. If this wasn’t enough, find greater paradox, in that, the Indian External Affairs Minister is reluctant to sojourn to the region, with travels designated to the Minister of State (Junior Minister) within the ranks, a protocol oddity of sorts. All this, even as, the Indian President and Vice President, with recent-year calls, on Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Suriname, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, Paraguay and Costa Rica, respectively, are found to be traversing uncharted politico-diplomatic ground and imbuing greater incidence of contacts, despite the known fact that, an Indian Prime Ministerial visit, is a catalyst, like none else. There is no sound reason for Modi to conspicuously stave-off, more than single country visits, on each of his 2014 (Brazil for BRICS) and 2018 (Argentina for the G20) trips. Being spooked by fear of finding himself embroiled in the polarising and acrimonious domestic political landscapes, constitutes a ruse, just as apprehensions of finding himself ensnared within the sovereign power-play fault-lines in the region point to naiveté. Political affinities are critical to bringing congenial incandescence in what remains a propitious environment for India-Latin America engagement, positing to be built around coalescing domains of mutual interest and partaking concern. The template for a pining paradigm-shift in relations, invariably depends on the commitment and resolve of bilateral political leadership, whose decisive strategic-guidance, often sheds the cobwebs and moves the needle, in beneficent conduct across stakeholder-realms, from engendering politico-diplomatic convergence to forging economic and commercial cooperation, and fostering, off-ramp societal connect.

The case-in-point being the Modi - Peña Nieto chemistry, that procreated, since they hit it off, at the G20 in Australia in late 2014, and blossomed, through the four hour Modi stop-over visit to Mexico City in 2016. The positivity that it bred in the relationship, has contributed, among other things, to Mexico trumping Brazil, in becoming New Delhi’s largest regional trading partner. Given the Chinese echelon leadership’s trenchant political cultivation of the region, reaping plausible rewards, such intriguing absenteeism, verging on longstanding indifference, needlessly deprives ties from inhabiting good-space.

Amidst the rising tide of globally pervasive trade-induced protectionism and generically shrinking trading markets across flat-line economies of the proverbial ‘North’, is set in corresponding motion, much-vaunted kinetic economics and commerce, in the putative ‘South’. India as a premier emerging economy and Latin America as a rising region, despite glacial growth trajectories, have emerged, as veritable growth poles, in the global context, with substantive implications for a redefined framework of South-South Cooperation. South Asia and Latin America find themselves as captivating magnets, gravitating fiduciary flows, both in terms of investment-driven pecuniary resources and development-financing underwriting infrastructural and logistical capacity building and socio-economic emancipating, demographic empowerment.

The traditional prism of India-Latin America ties has put their once competitive economies in insular and hidebound mode, through the conventional sieve of finding complementarity through commercial clientelism having at its heart New Delhi’s sourcing of a spectrum of existential and strategic natural commodities from this verdantly endowed region fuelling the former’s sustained economic growth path in recent years. With Indian economic growth projections anticipated to hold steady but not to surge appreciably from current indices, and with Indian manufacturing still broadly blighted by deep-rooted structural infirmities, it’s far-fetched to expect trade volumes to spike exponentially, through gross scale-up in either side’s exports. An ostensibly pure ‘buyer-seller’ dynamic would keep equations tethered to a perfunctorily transactional proposition, would leave trade exchanges vulnerable to vagaries of price and demand elasticity and would always be subject to sectoral discomforts and hamstringing vested interests, at either end. In contrast, if concurrently, more pragmatic and innovative avenues at trade cooperation, could be mutually identified and envisaged, one which could prioritize handholding, through joint-ventures and co-production initiatives, then this would not only enhance the commercial profile, in terms of injecting the partnering dimension in it, but would also impart qualitative value-addition in manufacturing processes, and consequently render quantum augmentation in trade volumes. The quest for Preferential and Free Trade Agreements notwithstanding, they should not be the single stand upon which commercial interchange rests.

There is no gainsaying the role of Infrastructure in emerging vistas of India-Latin America cooperation. While big is, many a times, better, small is no less beautiful. China is adept at consummating big-ticket infrastructure projects across much of Latin America, enduring its fair share of hits and misses in the process. For India to endeavour to match them, would be vacuous folly. Instead, India is able to underwrite and must concentrate its energies upon much smaller but societally connected infrastructure projects, which constitute no less a critical mass to societal uplift and empowerment than the mega-projects, with all deleterious effects of the latter, to boot. India and Latin America could understandably collaborate on bringing home projects in agriculture and agro-based industries, water conservation, management and harvesting, housing, small and medium scale enterprises, renewable energy, etc., which can bring them into intimate operational relationships predicated on complementarities and premised on synergies. Closely coupled with this would be developmental projects financed in pursuance of socio-economic development. India, in its new role as a net foreign aid donor, has been disbursing funds, under the aegis of its diplomacy for development and development partnership frameworks, with the methodology anchored in consensual decision-making and underpinned by considerations of fiscal viability, social inclusivity, and ecological sustainability. This is a refreshing break from the predatory projects that much of Latin America finds itself in the crosshairs of.

Socio-economic subsets, in the ‘Global South’ are, nowadays, no longer only consumers of technology. In fact, they are fast emerging as progenitors of cost-effective, indigenised advents. Both India and Latin America, despite their transitional phase of development, have emerged as pioneers of technologies which may not be in the league of the high-end critical industrial and security-related technological domains but nevertheless, are strutting their stuff in conjuring-up sophisticated technologies in realms that form the critical-mass to evolving societies and are invariably solutions-based platforms. India and Latin America are also suitably placed to act as capillaries, savvy to exuding and absorbing technologies in the same breadth, given their markedly young demographics (65% of India, to soon have a median age of 29, whilst one-half of Latin America’s 620 million are below 30 years of age) besides the dint of the technological dimension of the relationship being a two-way street. India is a world-renowned leader in the civilian space sector, with proven capabilities in information technology and enabled services, besides possessing cutting-edge in many strands of the knowledge-driven services industry. Latin America for its part, is also a pioneer in alternate fuels (Brazil and ethanol), renewable energy (Chile in the top global triumvirate for solar energy revolution), ecologically conscious sustainable development (Costa Rica is poised to become a carbon-neutral country by 2021), not to mention the potential in applications involving rare earths (the trio of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, are christened as the Lithium Triangle, holding close to a half of total global deposits, the critical ingredient to power the Electric Mobility transformation).

India and Latin America are well-positioned to contribute to the drive to shape global commons. While much of the focus tends to be on India-Brazil cooperation through the BRICS transcontinental framework or through coalitions of the willing collectives such as the G-04 and the G-20, it’s important to elucidate the cooperation at broad multilateral democratic forums too. India and Latin America are strong votaries to the UNs Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are collectivising, to bring breakthroughs, to societies, hitherto shut-out from a better quality of life, less defined by singular income levels, but more, by the quality of services made affordable and accessible to them. Latin American countries have expressed effusive support and sought representation within the Indian mooted and Indo-French collaboratively spearheaded International Solar Alliance, which proposes trans-regional solar cooperation towards equability and building a just global clean energy arena. Similarly, going beyond the much bandied scope for cooperation in conventional energy security and food security, towards bringing strategic independence to bear in these areas of national requirement, there is much to be imbibed, from each other, in the areas of tourism, in all its myriad and holistic forms, from eco-tourism to civilizational tourism (Peru and Machu Pichu), instructive urban renewal lessons, to be gleaned, from the dramatic transformations in city development processes, underway, in one time drugs-infested and dreaded towns such as Medellin in Colombia, and the ilk.

The nomenclatures of ‘Strategic Autonomy’ and ‘Strategic Partnership’ are liberally proliferated in the discourse, yet, they don’t always comfortably sit in practice. India and Latin America should imperatively embrace the cavernous opportunities, that globalisation, protectionism, power-diffusion within global architecture, changing contours of political economy, technology and demography are proffering, for them to build a comprehensive, multifaceted and dynamic relationship, that draws on strategic transactionalism and not tactical transactionalism, for mutual fit. n

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