India and Cuba will seek to engage in the pharma and public transport sectors during a rare high-level political visit from the Caribbean country in the last four decades.
Cuban first vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel’s trip, starting next week, assumes importance in the light of the West lifting long-standing sanctions imposed on the country.
As the $121-bn Cuban economy opens up, it gives India an opportunity to further push its business interests beyond Latin America to the Caribbean.
During the trip, Diaz-Canel will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior officials. On the agenda is expediting a bilateral investment treaty and cooperation in sectors of India’s interest, such as pharmaceuticals, automobiles and science and technology.
A senior Indian diplomat said: “This is the right time for India to step in and take advantage of the huge opportunities that are opening up in that country with a population of over 11 million.”
In Cuba — as in much of Latin America — India is trying to at least hold on to, if not expand, its influence at a time China has emerged a key investor, donor and trade partner.
The 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), of which Cuba is an integral part, wants to boost economic ties with BRICS nations.
During a recent Delhi visit, Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla said: “We wish to seek a higher level of economic cooperation with India and other BRICS nations.” Parrilla said Cuba and other CELAC members had considerable amount of expertise and resources to offer to Indian companies in the pharmaceutical sector.
During Diaz-Canel’s visit, the Modi government plans to resurrect a proposal of gifting Cuba 25 buses for public transport in Havana. The plan had fallen through due to US sanctions, as Tata buses have American components. The plan was to gift 25 buses and then another 200 to Cuba.
The personal role of President Fidel Castro in forging the India-Cuba alliance is well known. The image of Cuban leader Fidel Castro in a bear-hug with then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1983, while handing over the NAM chairmanship to her in 1983, had become iconic. But in a world where international affairs are ruled increasingly by pragmatism, the challenge for New Delhi is whether it can build on the goodwill of a historic alliance, based largely on an increasingly irrelevant ideology, and craft a new partnership for a new world.