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India is stepping up engagement with the 33-country Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, which is vital to its oil imports and also offers a huge market for Indian products and services.
President Ram Nath Kovind will visit Suriname and Cuba from June 19 to 24 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to travel to the region later this year when Argentina hosts the G20 summit.
To build ties with the region becoming increasingly important for its foreign policy objectives, New Delhi was pushing for high-level contact that has been missing, officials said on Monday.
The first big push came in May when M Venkaiah Naidu chose Guatemala, Panama and Peru for his first foreign visit as the vice president. This was the first high-level Indian visit to the two countries in 50 years of diplomatic ties.
“The vice president had already visited three countries in Latin America. MoS (minister of state VK 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) in the ministry of external affairs.
The government was also drawing up a plan under which Indian leaders would head to countries rarely visited at high level, an official said. Modi, who has been to Brazil and Mexico, would visit other countries in region when he goes to Argentina, the official said.
LAC accounts for around 20% of India’s oil imports. Though there is no comparison between trade ties that China shares with the region, New Delhi is making amends in some areas. In 2016, India beat China in pharma exports. That year India’s exports were $651 million in comparison to China’s $404 million. The trade between India and region grew to $36.5 billion in 2017.
“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 key in India’s journey to become a true world leader and consolidate its global influence,” Mexico’s ambassador to India Melba Pria said.
India’s participation in the G20 summit was an excellent opportunity to engage in other visits to strengthen bilateral ties in the region, said Pria who is also the coordinator of LAC embassies.
Experts feel trade, which has been growing, could bring India close to the region.
India’s trade with Latin America grew by 24% in 2017 to $36.3 billion after a decline in 2015 and 2016, said R Viswanathan, a former career diplomat who served in the region. The exports increased by 15% to $12.9 billion and imports by 28 % to $23.4 billion in 2017 from the previous year.
“The trade is poised to grow in the coming years in view of the increase in the economic growth forecast for the region and the higher global prices of commodities,” he said.
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