This October, Argentina became the seventh country with which India signed a civil nuclear agreement. The crucial deal follows a series of similar ones that India signed with other countries. The lifting of a 34-year-old ban on India with regard to nuclear commerce in September 2008 by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has facilitated the said process. The Agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy between India and Argentina was signed by Vivek Katju, Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs and the Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Talana. Starting with the US, India has already signed civil nuclear pacts with France, Russia, Kazakhstan, Namibia and Mongolia.
Many Indian companies have already made investments in Argentina in various sectors like information technology, pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals and mining. Investments by Indian companies are estimated to the tune of US$119 million. Moreover, these ventures provide employment opportunities to thousands of Argentine nationals. Correspondingly, a few Argentine companies have also set up operations in India in the engineering and pharmaceutical sectors. On the energy front, Indian and Argentine companies are discussing cooperation in oil and gas sectors.
According to the joint statement released by the Ministry of External Affairs of India on 14 October 2009, “Argentina and India, as active countries with a long tradition in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, have reiterated their intention to develop, promote and cooperate in this field in accordance with their respective international obligations and commitments. They will make use of the synergies existing between the two countries and the vast experience of their nuclear scientists and technologists.”
The two leaders also shared the view that civil nuclear energy can play an important role as a safe, sustainable and non-polluting source in meeting rising global demands for energy. Taking into consideration their respective capabilities and experience in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, both India and Argentina have agreed to encourage and support scientific, technical and commercial cooperation for mutual benefit in this field.
Looking at India’s foreign policy, it can probably be concluded that not much significance has been given to Latin America till date. In 1949 Brazil became the first Latin American country with who India established diplomatic relations. Peru was a part of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Hence it gave moral support to India during the Sino-Indian War in 1962.
Recently, President Lula Da Silva of Brazil visited India in June 2007. Indian President Pratibha Patil went to Brazil, Latin America’s largest nation, in April 2008 to reach out to the business community there. She met the business community at Sao Paolo and a delegation of FIESP (Industry Federation of Sao Paolo).
The visit of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to New Delhi in March 2005 was important and held promise. He even talked about sending Venezuelan oil experts to assist India for exploring oil in Rajasthan. In April 2008, the ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) signed a joint venture agreement with the state-owned oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) to hold 40 per cent stake in the San Cristobel oil field located in Orinoco oil belt in Venezuela. Moreover, Venezuela also supports India’s claim for a permanent membership in the UN Security Council.
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s visit to India took place at a time when India and Argentina marked sixty years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The visit was significant because this was the first Presidential visit form Argentina in 15 years, the last visit was by President Menem in 1994. From the Indian side, the last visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Argentina was in 1995 by late PV Narasimha Rao for the G-15 Summit.
Formal diplomatic relations with Argentina started in 1949. India has an embassy in Buenos Aires and Argentina has an embassy in New Delhi. Previously, India supported the Argentine claims on British colonies in Southern Atlantic Ocean and other territorial border disputes with Chile.
In this latest visit by the Argentine President, the two sides expressed satisfaction at the growing engagement in the trade and economic spheres. They noted that some Indian companies have made investments in Argentina and that bilateral trade increased from US$ 694 million in 2003 to US$1328 million in 2008, almost doubling in the last five years. Furthermore, the two countries pegged the bilateral trade target at an ambitious level of US$3 billion by 2012. Both nations expressed keenness to expand and diversify trade and economic cooperation in areas in which Argentina and India have comparative advantages, as well to utilize the untapped potentials.
India has keenly pursued a Look East Policy since the early 1990s. Probably the time has come for it to embark on a “Look Latin America Policy.” Energy requirements and better diplomatic ties to acquire support for its membership in the UN Security Council can be the core issues in this regard.