Enhancing bilateral defence and security cooperation, trade, and to boost investments, Minister of State (MoS), Ministry of External Affairs, V Muraleedharan is on his first ever visit to Central America and the Caribbean countries. The three nations visit from July 5-10, 2021, including Guatemala in Central America, and Caribbean nations – Jamaica and the Bahamas.
In his weeklong visit to the region, the minister, accompanied by senior officials, is going to review the progress in India’s bilateral relations and to further deepen the multifaceted relationship with three countries including in SICA and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the agenda in all the three countries besides meeting with his counterparts, he will also call on the top leaders of the three countries.
A top diplomat has confirmed to Financial Express Online that the minister’s agenda in Guatemala includes calling on President Alejandro Giammattei; Business Lunch; meeting with the minister of Economy and Business Heads; Interaction with Indian Community and also felicitating Yoga community.
This is the second top leader’s visit to the Central American nation. In May 2018, the Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu visited for the first time ever. The minister V Muraleedharan during his visit from July 5-6 will review the progress made on the agreements which were made during that visit.
He will also meet with the Guatemalan Minister of Economy, and the Heads of Chambers of Commerce & Industry of Guatemala. The focus of the meeting will be further enhancing bilateral trade which stands at USD 309.86 million and to identify sectors to boost investments.
A top diplomat has confirmed to Financial Express Online “Later this year, India-SICA meeting is expected to take place. And during his meeting with top leadership and his counterpart this will also be discussed. The Central American nation Guatemala is the current Pro-tempore President of the Central American Integration system (SICA). And India has already an established engagement mechanism in place.”
In May this year, during the second Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) with Guatemala the focus was on deepening cooperation in various sectors including Agriculture, Space, energy, education, Science and Technology, health and traditional medicine and tourism. Guatemala is keen on FDI in IT, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.
And Financial Express Online had reported that during the FOC talks, cooperation in — Defence & Security, cooperation with CAABI, being part of OSA (Organization of American States) was also on the agenda. The two sides had also talked about the International Solar Alliance (ISA).
India has already offered training for the Civil Police and the Guatemalan government has also been briefed on the strengths of the Indian defence sector.
Cooperation in Defence Sector
MKU Company based in the UP Defence Industrial Corridor, is set to enter Guatemala with its body armours as well as other products. So far this is the only Indian company supplying in the region.
For the first time, Financial Express Online had talked about security solutions for the Central America Region which included using tools like Analytics and Predictive Policing, Personnel Training, and UAVs.
And “with robust ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Recce) information, it can be used in achieving the deterrence and help in deployment of armed Police Force optimally in the country, opined Milind Kulshreshtha, C4I expert.
Adding, “India has a major industry for advanced technologies which may provide solutions like UAVs and Artificial Intelligence which may be included with ease within the framework of C3I at a much lesser cost.”
Read Also | India should play a larger role in Central America’s development and can offer security solutions, say experts
Space is another sector where the government of that country has expressed its interest. “It is keen in Forest Fire Management Training as well as Remote Sensing Training as well as in Resource Mapping,” Ambassador of India to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, BS Mubarak has confirmed to Financial Express Online.
The three countries which the minister is visiting are keen on getting India’s help in Waste Water Management.
SICA (Central American Integration system)
Both sides are very keen on having a SICA — Partial Free Trade Agreement. AS reported earlier, this agreement is going to be with the six Central American Nations which are under SICA. Since Guatemala is the current Pro-tempore President of SICA, the proposed agreement will be discussed with the member countries later this year. Both India and SICA Group of countries are working towards a Customs Union. And to implement this soon, certain steps need to be taken which are based on the requirements of the member countries.
The critical areas that are being considered include: Space Cooperation; Security; Aerospace; Agriculture; Food & Energy; Pharmaceuticals; MSMEs, and capacity building.
India-Guatemala Bilateral Trade
Both countries are exploring new sectors for expanding the trade basket, which is one of the most important pillars in the bilateral relations between the two countries.
Read Also | Indian IT companies look towards Guatemala: Envoy BS Mubarak
In the midst of the 2020 lockdown, Indian mission was the only one in the region which had set a record of sorts by holding virtual meetings and exhibitions of various sectors. This enabled the Indian businesses to showcase their products.
From July 7-8, the minister will be in Jamaica. This is according to the Ministry of External Affairs, in four years, will be the first visit by an Indian Minister to the Caribbean nation.
Topping the agenda is the inauguration of the bust of Mahatma Gandhi at May Pen city. He will also visit the Old Harbour Bay where the first Indians landed in Jamaica 175 years ago and interact with a wide cross-section of the Jamaican society including Indian community leaders as well as business leaders.
This will be the first standalone high level visit from India to this Caribbean island. In addition to his official meetings, MoS during his visit from July 9-10 will be interacting with the Bahamian society of business leaders and Indian community members.
India and CARICOM
As reported earlier, engagement with these countries has been increased by India. In 2019, India had announced humanitarian aid of $ one million to the Bahamas when Hurricane Dorian had caused huge destruction to the island country.
In 2019, the first-ever India-Caribbean Island summit heads had taken place on the sidelines of the UNGA. The CARICOM member nations include: Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Out of the 20 members, 15 are full members and the rest are associate members. These countries are home to a large population of the Indian Diaspora.