Home / Companies / People /  ‘India’s Sri Lanka funding and humanitarian aid example to the world’

NEW DELHI : Colombian ambassador to India Mariana Pacheco Montes said Sri Lanka is a learning experience for developing countries with respect to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. “You have to be very, very careful about where you put your eggs," she said in an interview. Edited excerpts:

Tell us about the engagement on energy security between India and Colombia.

This cooperation has been going on for years. ONGC Videsh has been in Colombia since 2014 and had a joint venture with a Chinese company for the exploration and production of crude oil. ONGC has also succeeded in bids for its own fields and is expected to start producing more than 40,000 barrels per day by next year. This is high quality oil. With the war In Ukraine, both countries have worked for energy supply security. Last year, we were able to provide some exports of coal during the energy crisis but this year we were unable to provide this because Europe and China secured these supplies. India’s energy matrix is very dependent on coal and we have very good quality coal.

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Are we going to see any collaborations on India’s energy transition?

I am very much looking forward to that. Colombia went from around 0.2% of alternative fuels in our energy mix to almost 9%. Colombia is also a part of IRENA. My Embassy has also asked Bogota to look into joining the International Solar Alliance.

Any talks on critical minerals?

We have not spoken about critical or rare minerals with India. Colombia was pretty much unexplored for these minerals because we were in the midst of a conflict. We are now in the sixth year of a peace agreement and now have the opportunity to look into this. Many of Colombia’s rare mineral deposits are also in environmentally fragile areas.

In terms of trade, what are India’s strengths for Latin America & which growth sectors are being targeted?

Pharmaceuticals are a priority. What India has built with its pharmaceutical ecosystem is just incredible. This is something that Colombia needs to learn. India has a pharma industry that is high- tech, innovative and manufactures affordable and accessible medicines. No other country has that. Four Memorandums of Understanding are almost ready to be signed. One is in medical research with the Indian Council of Medical Research, one aims to strengthen the pharma relationship, another is between our regulatory agencies and one on biotechnology.

Your views about what China’s BRI means for developing economies given the Sri Lankan experience?

You have to be very, very careful about where you put your eggs. Countries like Sri Lanka are a learning experience where we must take the good, the bad and the ugly. I think multilateral agencies are doing their best but I don’t know if it is going to be enough. However, I think what India is doing with Sri Lanka, going in with funding and humanitarian aid, is an example to the world.

Is India talking to Colombia about a Preferential Trade Agreement? 

There have been talks but they are going very slowly. There are certain sensitive areas especially in agriculture. Colombia has more than 17 Free Trade Agreements in place and the Ministry of Trade is looking into this matter. We advanced a study in Colombia and so did the Indian side. But both sides have not yet exchanged these plans. However, a lot is also happening on the private sector side. Colombia has TCS, Tech Mahindra, Hero Motocorp Royal Enfield, Bajaj. Hero Motocorp has a factory near Cali and is also looking to sell electric motorcycles by using Colombia as a hub to other markets like Brazil. India’s IT companies are performing well in the financial and insurance sector. I have encouraged them to look into other sectors like manufacturing and government. India’s companies have a very good reputation in the country and like to work with local employees unlike other foreign countries that like to bring in their own workers. 

There is a sense that India and Latin America have under-invested in their relationship and don’t figure in each other’s thinking. What is your sense of this issue? 

I think India is making great strides with Latin America. There is a real opportunity for India to look into the Pacific Alliance and organizations like the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), CELAC and other multilateral organisations in the region. Minister Jaishankar is leading that effort. Since I came to India in the beginning of 2021, it is incredible how many visits have taken place from Minister Jaishankar, Minister Lekhi and government secretaries to the region. However, beyond the governments, person-to-person links will be very important. Often, links between people and the private sector drag the public sector along. 

Both countries have also started looking at cooperation in space. Could you tell us something about that? 

We had Minister Lekhi visit Colombia and an MoU on aerospace was signed with ISRO. I then visited ISRO and we had our Minister of Science and Technology put in a proposal for using a satellite that will be utilized for peaceful purposes like agriculture, meteorological measures and demographic measurement among others. The only satellite that Colombia has launched into space was launched by ISRO. Further, the Minister of Science and technology has spoken to ISRO about jointly developing a satellite. We are currently developing it ourselves and are encountering some challenges as we do not have the technology. Of course, other countries have come in and offered their expertise and India is on a list of countries who are going to collaborate. However, a final decision will need to be made by the new Minister for Science and Technology and the Colombian Air Force.  

Latin America has increasingly become another front in the competition between America and China. As this competition escalates, how is the region and Colombia specially looking to manage these tensions? 

We’re very close to the US. We have historically looked north and also have a large diaspora in the United States. America has also been our largest cooperation partner. On the other hand, China has also been coming to Colombia and other countries in the region. For example, China is building the metro in Bogota. It is also involved in telecom, connectivity and infrastructure in the country. 

Colombia sits in the heart of the Americas. As President Petro of Colombia has said, we must not get in the middle of these super powers. I must say that India’s position on this issue is very respected. We live in a world of many uncertainties. I think Colombia is doing a good job of moving ahead and trying to take one step at a time without breaking any eggs. 

India and Colombia both have a massive entertainment industry. What are the possibilities for collaboration here? 

I truly began to understand what soft power is once I arrived in India. Culture is an important part of my diplomatic mission here. We have started negotiating an MoU on co-production of audio-visual content. The dream would be to have a Bollywood movie shot in Bogota, Medellin or Cali in Colombia. This is an MoU between our Ministry of Culture and your Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. 

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