Amid its intense efforts to get entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), India today said the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region is "critical" to its ambition to become a member of the 48-nation grouping - of which Brazil, Argentina and Mexico are existing members.
The LAC region is also poised to grow in importance for India's energy security as it currently accounts for around 18-20 per cent of India's oil imports, Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh said while addressing the inaugural Session of the 7th India-LAC Conclave Guadalajara in Mexico.
Asserting that New Delhi attaches great importance to its relations with the LAC region, he said defying downbeat trends in an uncertain global economic landscape, India, the world's fastest growing economy, is betting big on Latin America, an emerging growth pole of the world.
He said India and LAC, home to around 1.8 billion people, are continuously looking to ramp up this multi-faceted engagement and open new doors for mutually invigorating partnership and added with a combined GDP of over USD 4 trillion, the LAC region remains a formidable economic force.
"Building upon New Delhi's dialogue with the troika of foreign ministers of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the two sides are exploring possibilities of forging an 'India-Latin America and Caribbean Dialogue Mechanism' similar to that of the 'India-Africa Forum Summit'.
"The LAC region is also critical to the ongoing drive for reforming the global governance architecture; including the reform and expansion of the UN Security Council, and India's ambition to become a member of the NSG - of which Brazil, Argentina and Mexico are existing members," Singh asserted.
On trade front, he said it has grown from USD 2 billion in 2001 to a high of USD 50 billion in 2015, and cross-county investments currently total roughly USD 23 billion.
The fact that India's bilateral trade with the LAC region is still a small fraction (5 per cent) of the country's total external trade as well as that of the LAC region (just 2 per cent), demonstrates the huge potential that exists to increase the bilateral trade, he added.
Drawing similarities between the two countries, the minister said soccer, cricket, samba and story-telling, for which LAC is famous for, blends beautifully with the Indian cultural forms, Bollywood, music and spiritual practices like yoga and noted that the presence of about one million Indian diaspora in the LAC region adds a special dimension to the relationship.
The minister also invited investors to do business in India, saying India today has one of the most liberal FDI regimes in the world and the reform efforts have also seen India's FDI reach USD 55.45 billion in financial year 2015-16, a growth of 53 percent compared to year 2013-14.
With the central government championing the cause of Ease of Doing Business and the States competing to facilitate investment through investor friendly policies there has never been a better time to participate in the India success story, he said.
(Reopens DEL 64) Singh also noted that India's major trade and investment partners are large economies like Brazil and Mexico and other countries like Chile, Peru and Colombia are rapidly increasing their engagement with India. India is also keen to build up business with the Central American and Caribbean countries, he said and added that although India has signed trade agreements with Mercosur and Chile, and is negotiating a similar pact with Peru, India's trade relationship with LAC is primarily through bilateral relationships. "Time has now come to map and analyse the role of multiple regional groups and multilateral trade agreements in furthering the India-LAC relationship through common elements of mutual interest.
We must examine how India can work closer with the Pacific Alliance and other Regional Groupings," the minister said. India has offered to provide weather forecasting and mapping of mineral resources technologies to the LAC region and was also considering joining the Inter-American and Caribbean Development Banks as a member to contribute to the overall development efforts in the LAC region, Singh said. Talking about various steps taken by India on the simplification of visa regime, the minister also urged the administrations in the LAC countries to simplify the visa issuance processes, which will act as a catalyst for boosting business and tourist travel and greater people-to-people contacts.