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What's the ‘Strategic Significance’ of Jaishankar’s Visit to Latin America & Caribbean?

© Photo : Twitter/ @DrSJaishankarEAM S. Jaishankar in Guyana
EAM S. Jaishankar in Guyana - Sputnik India, 1920, 21.04.2023
New Delhi says it seeks to develop substantive relationships with the Latin American and Caribbean nations through the expansion of business and people-to-people ties.
Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar on Friday kicked off a nine-day official visit to Guyana, Panama, Colombia and Dominican Republic — his second to the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region in less than a year.
Jaishankar is leading an Indian business delegation headed to explore the commercial opportunities in the “post-pandemic era”, as per a statement by the Indian Foreign Ministry.

Pivot to Latin America?

Since 2014, there has been an upswing in diplomatic and trade ties between New Delhi and the LAC nations: the past years witnessed six presidential level visits and four visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in these years. On the other hand, there have been 37 major visits from the region to India, including seven at the leadership level.

Addressing the conference on Latin America and Caribbean in New Delhi in February, Jaishankar said that India was moving towards the “goal of becoming a leading power”, which meant it needed to have a global “footprint”.

New Delhi also started to open its missions in the countries with no diplomatic presence in the past: during his previous visit to the region last year, Jaishankar formally unveiled the Indian diplomatic mission in Paraguay.
In the Dominican Republic leg (27-29 April) leg of his visit, Jaishankar will formally inaugurate the Indian resident embassy in Santo Domingo.
Finally, Jaishankar will also be the first Indian Foreign Minister to visit Colombia.

India Realises ‘Strategic Importance’ of LAC Countries

Professor Sonya Gupta, the honorary director of Centre for European and Latin American Studies at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, told Sputnik that New Delhi has been increasing its engagement with major regional mechanism such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which is a political and economic union of 15 nations with a million-strong Indian diaspora.

“India is increasingly understanding the strategic importance of maintaining close ties with the region,” Gupta said, adding that traditionally, Latin American and the Caribbean seemed “distant for us in India”.

“But high-level visits from India to the region and New Delhi’s growing diplomatic presence is indicative of the fact that New Delhi realised the strategic importance of having Latin America and Caribbean as a focus of its diplomatic efforts,” the Latin American and Caribbean expert said.
In Guyana (21-23 April), Jaishankar will co-chair the meeting of Foreign Ministers in the India-COFCOR (Council on Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR), which sees to promote ties of CARICOM with third countries.
In the Panama leg (24-25 April) of his visit, Jaishankar will convene a meeting with the eight-country Central American Integration System (SICA), per Indian statement.
Last year, Jaishankar’s visit focussed on expanding India’s footprint in South America as he visited Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, which are part of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, an influential regional mechanism of 33 countries from Latin American and the Caribbean.

Multilateral Coordination on Global Issues

Gupta said that due to “historical ties” and shared colonial experience between India and the region, there was a great deal of convergence between New Delhi and LAC nations on major global issues such as climate change and multilateral governance reforms.
In 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a $150 million credit line for renewable energy and climate change projects in CARICOM countries.
The Indian expert noted that the visit comes at a time when India is holding the G-20 presidency and channelling its efforts towards emerging as a credible voice for the Global South.
“Latin America and Caribbean countries have traditionally been neglected from conversations about the Global South. Most of the global attention has been on Asia and Africa,” reckoned the Indian academic.

Growing Trade Ties in Post-Pandemic Era

Overall trade between India and the LAC region topped $50 billion last year, mainly driven by Brazil’s energy and mineral exports to India, edible oil exports from Argentina to India and growing mineral exports from the region, including copper.
Picture of the Stabroek Market in Georgetown, Guyana, taken on September 23, 2022. - Sputnik India, 1920, 10.01.2023
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Oil-Rich Guyana Seeks India’s Support to Develop Economy
Now, the recent discovery of huge quantities of crude oil in Guyana has piqued the interest of New Delhi as it looks to diversify its crude imports away from its traditional suppliers in the Middle-East.
Jaishankar has said there have been “very active discussions” between New Delhi and “a few rising, really important energy producers” in the region. Discussions on energy cooperation are expected to take place during Jaishankar’s visit to Guyana.

What Does India Export to Latin America?

India’s exports to the region comprise:
two-wheelers, agro-products;
IT services;
and refined petroleum products.
While India-headquartered Bajaj Auto is the biggest company in Columbia’s motorcycle market, another Indian two-wheeler firm Hero MotoCorp has a local plant in the country. Both the Indian firms have a sizable presence in LAC’s motorcycle market, as per 2021 estimates.
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