In continued focus on the region, Minister of State for External Affairs and Culture Meenakshi Lekhi, has left for a tour of three Latin American nations of Chile, Panama, and Honduras.
This visit should be seen as an addition to the list of high – level exchanges between India and Latin America that have grown considerably longer in the past few years.
“India under the current government has been earnestly attempting to build upon the bilateral relationships that have been considered dormant until now,” opines Dr Aparaajita Pandey, Senior Research Associate, and PhD from Centre for Latin American Studies.
First ever visit to Honduras from May 1-3
It is for the first time that India is visiting Honduras. During her visit Ms Lekhi will be meet President Ms Iris Xiomara Castro Sarmiento and also with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Honduras, Ambassador Eduardo Enrique Reina
On the agenda in Honduras is laying the foundation stone for an irrigation project that began with the Lines of Credit that were provided by India called the Jamastran Valley Project.
She would also be visiting the IT Centre at the national Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH). This centre was set up in 2008 with the assistance of the Indian Government and so far almost 20,000 students have been trained.
Visit to Panama from April 28-May 1
The two sides will review the progress in the bilateral relationship between India and Panama since the visit of Vice President Venkiah Naidu in 2018.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs statement, the MoS will be meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms Erika Mouynes and the Minister of Culture Ms Giselle Gonzalez Villarue for Panama. Two agreements are lined up to be inked: Cultural Exchange programmes and gainful employment for dependents of officials in the diplomatic missions.
According to a top diplomat, “the bilateral trade between India and Panama has witnessed a historical 258 percent, and this visit will give an opportunity to both countries to identify possibilities of strengthening trade relations and to focus on them.”
The minister will also visit the Colon Area, a major goods hub and in her meetings there the focus will be on connectivity, and how two sides can work together in various sectors.
It has been reported earlier that Panama, in 1962, was the first Central American nation to establish diplomatic relations with India. However, in recent years it has been warming up to China and Beijing has introduced several direct flights to Panama City.
The minister will address the Indian Diaspora in Panama which is home to almost 15000 Persons of Indian Origin, the largest number in Latin America. And, most of these are descendants of people who more than a century ago had gone to Panama for construction of the Panama Canal and railways.
Visit to Chile
The South American nation has a new government led by the youngest ever leader. Andthe visit will add fresh momentum to India-Chile relations under the new government of President Gabriel Boric Font.
Financial Express Online has reported earlier that Chile is the 5th trading partner of India in the region and the two countries are in the midst of negotiations for the further expansion of the trade agreement between them.
According to MEA the bilateral trade between India-Chile total trade for the year 2021-22 has gone up and touched USD 2.35 bn, as compared to USD 1.47 bn in 2020-21.
Will the expansion of existing PTA be discussed?
According to a senior officer, trade talks are not on the agenda, however, if raised it will be discussed between the leaders during the visit.
Both countries are in the midst of negotiating the expansion of PTA and the South American nation Chile is keen on adding investments and services.
According to the MEA the minister will meet with Chilean Foreign Minister Ms Antonia Urrejola Noguera and Chilean Minister for Culture, Arts and Heritage, Ms Julieta Brodsky Hernandez.
Expert View on the visit to the Region
According to Dr Aparaajita Pandey “The Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) is a region of the world that presents itself with great potential for relationships, however, has traditionally been overlooked by India. However, this attitude towards LAC which was marred with the pre conceived notion of obstacles due to geographical distances and language barriers has now begun to change.”
“The Latin American and Caribbean region is dotted with countries that belong to the global south and are ready to see a transformation in the conventional systems of world politics and economics, as they try to find their place in the rapidly shifting world politics, they would prove to be natural allies for India. The two regions can potentially find camaraderie in not just the desire for a more just world but also trade, defence, energy, and food synergies as they get closer.
Significance of the visit to Chile
“The tour covers the countries of Chile, Panama, and Honduras. Chile has seen historical changes and election results in the recent past. As Chile has welcomed its youngest ever President – Gabriel Boric, one should not forget that he comes on the foundation of some of the most violent protests in Chile in recent decades and that these protests led to a completely new constitution. Gabriel Boric is the poster child of the new wave of politics in Latin America being nascently termed as the ‘Millennial Left’,” she explains to Financial Express Online. “Chile is also a country that houses a large percentage of the Sindhi community from India. Historically Chile has adopted neo-liberal principles and has been considered one of the most stable economies of the region. While the nation has now come up with a constitution that is more inclusive and focuses on social spending, the trade between India and Chile has grown from 1.45 billion USD on 2020-21 to almost 3.5 billion USD in 2021-22. As Chile becomes the fifth largest trading partner for India in the region, it is natural that India would like to strengthen the relationships between the two countries,” Dr Pandey adds.