Will India’s electric vehicle boom be powered by Bolivia’s lithium reserves? Bolivian ambassador EXCLUSIVE

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Published: July 17, 2018 12:47:44 PM

Bolivia can become a strategic partner to India in providing the natural resource. Bolivia is among the largest lithium reserves in the world.

Bolivia ambassador on Lithium reserves.

As India’s electric vehicle (EV) market expands, its energy needs are also bound to grow. India is widely expected to present a substantial part of the global EV battery demand in the coming years. This is where Bolivia, known to have largest lithium reserves, can strategically partner India in ensuring continuous supply of lithium — a key component used in making batteries.

Bolivia’s Ambassador to India, Sergio Dario Arispe Barrientos, terms it as an opportunity. “There is a huge opportunity for both India and Bolivia to work together in this area,” Sergio Dario Arispe Barrientos tells Ashish Pandey of FE Online in an interview. In a wide ranging interaction, he also discusses how Bolivia is interested in providing preferential access to certain products by reducing tariff on select goods.

Here are the edited excerpts from Bolivia’s Ambassador to India, Sergio Dario Arispe Barrientos’ interview with FE Online.

Q1. How can India benefit from Bolivia’s huge lithium reserves?

India has been very aggressive in trying to position certain policies that would change its energy needs in a very near time. India is emerging fast in the car manufacturing sector, and the Indian Prime Minister Modi considers it as an important sector just as pharmaceuticals. India is also championing international solar alliance. This is grand.

India has a per capita that is low, yet it comes up with products which are accessible to all Indians. It make things which are affordable to the rest of the world because of their low costs. In line with its aspiration to achieve 100% electric vehicle (EV) sales by 2030, India can rise among the top countries globally in manufacturing batteries. India’s market for EV batteries alone could be worth $300 billion from 2017 to 2030. But, 60% vehicle costs are energy related costs, and this is where lithium comes into play.

Bolivia can become a strategic partner to India in providing the natural resource. Bolivia is among the largest lithium reserves in the world. We have already signed a  large FDI contract with Germany. There is a huge opportunity for both India and Bolivia to work together in this area.

India could represent more than one-third of the global EV battery demand by 2030, if the country achieves its goals for a rapid transition to shared, connected, and electric mobility.

Q2. Have you approached the Indian government so far?

We had a meeting with Indian Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu in this regard. We have also presented a proposal to the Indian government. Bolivia has already shown its interest. Hopefully, we will receive the same from India.

Q3. What kind of incentives are you offering to India?

Bolivia is interested in signing a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) — a pact between countries that provides preferential access to certain products by lowering tariff and other conditions — with India for select goods.

Q4. Bolivia might have large lithium resources, but its regulatory hurdles also present the obstacle to production. No foreign company is permitted to extract lithium alone. The foreign firms are only allowed to participate in lithium production in partnership with state-run Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB). Don’t these factors act as obstacles for investors?

I don’t think that would be a hurdle for any foreign company to do business with Bolivia as every country would like to keep its stake in its natural resources and create job opportunities for his countrymen is not a harm. The German company ACI is already in Bolivia and has signed a MoU in setting up the production plant of Lithium and they are not facing any difficulties in doing business.

It is only the thought process or the mind set that has to be changed, difficulties are everywhere even in US or UK doing business is not easy hurdles are there as well but still people are doing business there. We have to think of a way out if there is any hurdle but that doesn’t mean that it will stop the business houses to come in Bolivia.

Q5. How does Bolivia see Narendra Modi’s leadership in terms of increasing trade between the two countries?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes across as somebody who is widely respected in the international community for a host of measures being taken by him. He comes up with a very welcoming attitude. We expect him to explore Latin America more to create a win-win situation for both countries.

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