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Manudev asked: What is the importance of South America in general and Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela in particular in India's foreign policy?

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  • Sanjay Badri-Maharaj replies: The Latin America-Caribbean (LAC) region, in general, has been accorded limited priority in Indian foreign policy.

    A distinction may be made between the hesitant and somewhat apathetic approach of the government towards enhanced ties with the region and the rather more proactive and enthusiastic approach by the Indian business sector which has seen Indian trade with the region growing many fold and increasing at the same rate as China’s, though its volume is ten times less. This divergence in approach is in stark contrast with the apparent synergy of effort between the Chinese business sector and its government which supports their activities in the region with both political support and the unequivocal backing of their financial institutions.

    Undoubtedly one of the major success stories of the last decade has been the significant increase in trade ties between India and the LAC region. India’s trade with Venezuela ($12.24 billion) and Brazil ($11.36 billion) in 2014-15 was more than its trade with Sri Lanka ($7.4 billion), Bangladesh ($7 billion), Thailand ($9.3 billion) and Vietnam ($9.2 billion), as well as with traditional partners France ($9.4 billion) and the Netherlands ($8.7 billion). The ‘FOCUS LAC’ mechanism, initiated in 1997 by Department of Commerce, is supposed to further enhance this trade. However, India largely imports raw materials and exports manufactured products from the region.

    India has accorded priority to relations with Brazil as compared to other countries in the region but, despite both being members of the BRICS, the level of engagement remains somewhat superficial though there is much scope for cooperation in many spheres. India’s relationship with Argentina is as yet quite limited while that with Venezuela is entirely focussed on oil supplies. Trade dominates India’s tangible relations with the LAC region and political cooperation and contact is still quite limited and superficial. This is unfortunate as there are many opportunities for enhanced cooperation.

    For more on the subject, please refer to my following publications:

    Dr. Sanjay Badri-Maharaj, an independent defence analyst and attorney-at-law based in Trinidad and Tobago, is a Member of the Editorial Committee of the IDSA Journal of Defence Studies. He was earlier a Visiting Fellow at IDSA.

    Posted on May 22, 2019

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