India Con Carne

For Indian foreign policy firms, Latin America is relatively low on the priority list. This is not accidental, but a reflection of geographical problems and broad ignorance on both sides. A sense of this came through when I recently moderated a panel of Latin American ambassadors in New Delhi.

First, the ambassadors of Brazil, Mexico and Chile all indicated how much the game had changed between them and India. In the past, Indo-Latin American relations were about vague cultural links and political bridges, largely on the far left (with Che and all). Today, India has invested $12 billion in the continent, and Indian companies like Essar Steel and TCS have developed a decent presence in the continent. Latin American firms are also present in India – the Marco Polo buses in New Delhi, for instance, are Brazilian in origin.

Second, at least when it comes to Brazil, there is a fairly wide diplomatic interaction. Both India and Brazil are members of the BRICS agglomeration, the G-20 (as are Mexico and Argentina) and the BASIC climate change group. No one is claiming either country puts the other on a pedestal, but it’s all a quantum level higher than the past.

Third, and arguably the most interesting, was the insistence by the Latin American ambassadors – especially those from Brazil and Mexico – that India needs to discover Latin America for its own global aspirations. Said the Mexican envoy, Jaimie Nualart, “India will find the reverse of itself in a mirror when it looks at Latin America.” Chile noted how almost every economic development challenge India was facing had been tackled in some form or another in Latin America. The Brazilian ambassador Carlos Duarte noted how Latin America had done it all – cash transfers and the like – in some form or another, and the two sides had plenty to learn from each other.

The obstacles remain: language, distance (Chile is the farthest country in the world from India) and so on. Indian businessmen claim that visas are hard to get, especially work permits.

Individually, the Latin states have not reached what Duarte called a “critical mass” in the relationship. If only the Latin Americans were as unified as the European Union in having a common currency, visa regime and so on.

“If they all got together,” says a TCS executive, “then Latin America would easily be worth the while of any Indian firm.”

Copyright © 2013 the Hindustan Times.

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