The Latin American and Caribbean region consists of three principal sub-regions: The South American continent; Central or Meso America from Mexico to Panama; and the Caribbean. The region includes 33 disparate countries, from tiny island States to mighty Brazil. There are linguistic, historical, political and economic differences, which have complicated efforts at regional integration.
- However, in recent years, with the consolidation of democratic structures in almost all of these countries, with exceptions such as Cuba, and a desire to advance economic prosperity, leaders and governments have invested strenuous efforts to overcome difficulties and adopt more harmonious and coordinated policies. Most important countries in the region have also realized the need to harmonise their economic policies to take advantage of economic complementarities within the region and abroad.
- Early efforts at integration through the ALADI (Latin American Integration Association); Andean Community; the CARIFTA (Caribbean Free Trade Association), and others met with limited success. More recent initiatives such as Mercosur (South American Common Market comprising Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela); UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) comprising 12 South American countries; and to some extent, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), have demonstrated the feasibility and the advantages of limited regional integration.
- Loose regional forums such as the Rio Group and CALC (Latin American and Caribbean Summit mechanism) served to provide a stage for the airing of political and economic views by regional leaders. Nevertheless, in recent years, these forums have helped to lessen tensions, and promote solutions to regional problems such as Colombia-Ecuador-Venezuela; Honduras.
- Conscious perhaps of the challenge posed by fundamental policy differences and pan-regional issues, such as narco-traffic; organized crime, etc., Latin American leaders decided in February 2010 in Mexico to form the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States – CELAC. This forum held its first Summit in Venezuela in December, 2011 and subsumes the other two regional forums – the Rio Group and the CALC. The next CELAC Summit is expected to be held in Santiago, Chile in early 2013. Chile is the current pro-tempore President, and will be succeeded in 2013 by Cuba. Thereafter Costa Rica takes over in 2014.
- An important feature of CELAC is the exclusion of the US and Canada, and the full membership of Cuba among the 33 member States.India’s interaction
Historically, Latin America has been a distant frontier. India’s diplomatic interaction with the region commenced soon after independence, with the opening of our Embassies in Brazil and Argentina in 1948, and in other major countries over succeeding years. In fact, Argentina provided a famine-hit India with a shipment of 140,000 tons of wheat as early as 1946. Political interaction, however, was limited – Latin America was absorbed with the US and Europe, and India focused on the Non-Aligned Movement.
Our trade with the region has increased over sixty – fold over the last two decades, from US$ 500 million in 1990 to US$ 32.2 billion in 2011-12. Nevertheless, it constitutes less than 1% of LAC’s global trade, compared to China’s which is around 8% of the region’s trade. Our investment in the region amounts to approximately US$ 15 billion currently.
India’s recent attempts at political dialogue with the region can be traced to September 1995 when the External Affairs Minister (EAM) met the Foreign Ministers of the then Troika of the Rio Group in New York. It was decided to have an annual structured dialogue, which was unfortunately not followed up.
An agreement for Political Consultation and Cooperation was signed with the Andean Community (CAN) during the visit of EAM to Lima, Peru in June 2003. There was little follow up on this, as on related efforts towards economic cooperation.
An agreement was signed between India and the CARICOM to establish a Standing Joint Commission for Consultation, Cooperation and Coordination during the visit of Foreign and Trade Minister of Jamaica, then Chairman of the CARICOM Community Council, in November 2003 to India and the first meeting of India-CARICOM Foreign Ministers was held in February 2005.