The President of India visited Croatia (25-28 March 19), Bolivia (28-30 March 19) and Chile (30 March-01 April 19). It was the first ever visit by a President of India to Croatia and Bolivia, and the 3rd such visit to Chile. It is fascinating to explore how these visits fit in India’s foreign policy endeavours.
Speaking at an event of the Foundation for Public Awareness and Policy (FPAP), New Delhi, on 13 March 2019[i], the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj enunciated India’s foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As per her, one of the key decisions taken was to undertake an extensive diplomatic outreach to all nations (Vrihad Sampark Yojana) with visits at the ministerial level and above. As part of this, by 26 May 2018, India had reached out to 189 nations. The PM had visited 58 nations, and the President and Vice President had visited 34 and 32 nations respectively.
The 33 nation Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region has largely been at the periphery of India’s foreign policy. Despite his hectic foreign schedule, the PM has visited only Brazil (July 2014), Mexico (June 2016) and Argentina (November – December 2018). Two of these visits were for multilateral summits. Hence, these have been complemented by visits of the President and VP. The President visited Suriname and Cuba in June 2018. The VP visited Guatemala, Peru and Panama in May 2018, and Paraguay and Costa Rica in March 2019. The latest visit of the President to Bolivia and Chile was also part of this engagement with countries in the region.
Both nations cooperate with India in multilateral forums and share similar views on terrorism, climate change, renewable energy and UN Security Council reforms, including support for India’s claim to a permanent seat. Both nations are now members of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) Framework Agreement, an initiative jointly launched by India and France in 2015.
The sectors of cooperation with India are also similar – mineral resources, trade & investment, outer space, information technology, pharmaceuticals, human resource development and cultural exchange.
The visit to Bolivia was historical since it was the first ever high-level (President/VP/PM) visit from India. Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were signed on cooperation in geology and mineral resources, Space, Bi-Oceanic Railway Integration Corridor Project, traditional systems of medicine and training of diplomats. Agreements were also signed on visa exemption, cultural exchange and a Centre of Excellence for Information and Communication Technology. The agreement to join the ISA was personally signed by the President of Bolivia, indicating the level of importance accorded to it[ii].
India has offered a $100 million Line of Credit for financing development projects[iii]. Bolivia intends to use it for development of its pharmaceutical industry[iv]. ISRO is undertaking preliminary studies for feasibility of establishing a space station in Bolivia. Remote sensing data has been offered to Bolivia for development planning purposes.
India and Chile have an extradition treaty dating 1897[v] and the origins of the Indian community in Chile can be traced back to 1905.
The Defence Wing in the Embassy of India, Santiago, was established in July 2006. MoU for cooperation between the navies was signed on 02 October 2006 and the MoU on Defence Cooperation was signed on 12 January 2007. Defence cooperation is in the form of training and visits. Chile has evinced interest in procuring Brahmos missiles. Indian Navy and Chilean Navy have taken part in the RIMPAC and Kakadu multilateral naval exercises in 2018.
Tucked within the paragraphs of the Joint Statement issued on the occasion of the visit is “the vision of the Indo-Pacific based on rules-based order” replete with all the bell-weather terms used by India to indicate like-minded nations[vi].
Trade and Investment
India’s foremost interests in Chile and Bolivia are their rich natural resources and opportunities for Indian business. Indian business delegations were part of the visit to both countries. Automobiles and pharmaceuticals constitute the main Indian exports. Indian industry presence is in the sectors of mining, auto, pharmaceuticals and IT.
India and Chile have signed a Preferential Trade Agreement that was last expanded in 2017. The total bilateral trade increased from $1.186 billion in 2009 to $2.52 billion in 2017[vii].
Bolivia has large reserves of natural gas. Joint exploration and LNG projects are envisaged in future. In 2017-18, the bilateral trade grew by 205 percent to reach $772 million, buoyed primarily by gold imports by India. India has emerged as the largest importer of gold from Bolivia. Bolivia has indicated its willingness to sign a Preferential Trade Agreement with India.
Lithium – A vital energy resource
Chile and Bolivia have two of the largest reserves of Lithium – a resource vital for the manufacture of Lithium batteries. Yet, they are a study of contrasts. Chile and Argentina provide almost half of the global supply of Lithium with Bolivia lagging way behind. There are several reasons for this – geographical, technical and political[viii].
India and Bolivia have now agreed to facilitate supplies of Lithium Carbonate from Bolivia to India, and foster joint ventures for Lithium battery manufacture in India[ix]. Khanij Bidesh India Limited (KABIL) is a joint venture of three Indian Public sector Units – National Aluminium Company (NALCO), Hindustan Copper Limited (HCL) and Mineral Exploration Corporation Limited (MECL). It is mandated to secure strategic mineral resources across the globe. Delegations of KABIL have visited Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, the nations of the ‘Lithium Triangle’[x]. Talks are progressing with state-owned mining company YLB and the Ministry of Energy of Bolivia. The National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage of India, mandated to plan India’s shift to electric vehicles, will also explore the feasibility of cooperation in view of India’s commitment to have at least 30 percent of its vehicles run on electric batteries by 2030.
The visit of the President to these two countries has provided an impetus to bilateral ties, explored possibilities for business collaboration and progressed in securing supply of vital natural resources.
[i] Sushma Swaraj, Speech on “India’s World: Modi Government’s Foreign Policy”, Foundation for Public Awareness and Policy, 13 March 2019.
[ii] Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, List of Agreements/MoUs signed during Hon’ble President’s State visit to Bolivia (March 28-30, 2019), 30 March 2019.
[iii] Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, India-Bolivia Joint Statement during State Visit of President to Bolivia (28-30 March 2019), 30 March 2019.
[iv] Huma Siddique, South-South Cooperation: India offers US 100 million LOC to Bolivia, inks multiple agreements, Financial Express, 30 March 2019.
[v] Utkarsh Anand, Supreme Court Holds 1897 Treaty with Chile Valid, The Indian Express, 29 April 2016.
[vi] Ministry of External Affairs, India-Chile Joint statement during State Visit of President of India to Chile (30 March-01 April 2019), 01 April 2019.
[vii] India-Chile Bilateral Relations, accessed from https://www.indianembassysantiago.gov.in/page/display/12?page/display/12 on 29 March 2019.
[viii] Talib Bisram, Why Chile is leading South America in Lithium production, CNN Business, 15 August 2018.
[ix] Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, India-Bolivia Joint Statement during State Visit of President to Bolivia (28-30 March 2019), 30 March 2019.
[x] Huma Siddiqui, India looks to South America’s Lithium Triangle to fulfil its increasing clean energy demands, Financial Express, 11 February 2019.
@ Commander Subhasish Sarangi is a Research Scholar at the United Service Institution of India (USI), New Delhi.
Article uploaded on 09 Apr 2019
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI.