Home / News / World /  The dream is to have a Bollywood movie shot in Bogota, Medellin or Cali, says Colombian ambassador Montes

Colombian ambassador to India Mariana Pacheco Montes in an interview spoke about Sri Lanka being a learning experience with respect to BRI, and said “you have to be very, very careful about where you put your eggs." Montes also articulated the Latin American’s country stance of not involving itself in the race between the US and China; and spoke about an expansive bilateral agenda with India, with the South American country planning to take a leaf out of India’s pharmaceutical playbook. She said that four MoUs are to be signed between the two countries for— medical research with ICMR, pharmaceuticals, regulation and biotechnology. She also spoke about a proposed agreement on entertainment; wherein Colombia will be promoted as a filming destination, thereby helping attract more tourists. She also talked about a preferential trade agreement in the works, her country expected to join International Solar Alliance (ISA), and ISRO being looked at as a partner for Colombia’s nascent space program. She also spoke about growing prospects for bilateral trade, Hero Motocorp leveraging Colombia as a hub to sell EVs in Latin America, and Colombia’s plans to establish itself as a key energy partner for New Delhi

Edited Excerpts of the Ambassador’s interview with Mint:

Colombia’s Ecopetrol and India’s Indian Oil Corporation have just signed a long term agreement for the supply of oil. Since when has the engagement on energy security between India and Colombia expanded?

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 and more than 90% of it is purchased by EcoPetrol. This Embassy has worked very strongly with ONGC Videsh. With the war In Ukraine, both countries have worked for energy supply security.

Further, we have also worked with India on coal. 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.

India is in the middle of an energy transition. Are we going to see any collaborations between India and Colombia on this front?

I am very much looking forward to that. This was a particular focus for the previous Colombian government which worked on expanding and changing our energy mix. We went from around 0.2% of alternative fuels in our energy mix to almost 9%. Colombia is also a part of the International Renewable Energy Alliance (IRENA). This Embassy has also asked the Ministry of Mines and Energy in Colombia to look into joining the International Solar Alliance. The vision that Prime Minister Modi has articulated is the same as Colombia’s vision. Today’s world is very uncertain and a crisis here or a war there might change the energy environment.

Latin America has come into a great deal of focus because of critical minerals like lithium and copper. This is also very important for India’s own green transition. Have there been talks between India and Colombia about 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.

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.

Your views about what China’s BRI means for developing economies as some believe that countries like Sri Lanka seem to have landed themselves into a debt trap?

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.

There is a long-standing trade relationship between India and Colombia. However trade volumes have remained in the mere millions. Could we get a sense from you on what India’s strengths are for Latin America and 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. There is also one joint venture between Genova pharmaceuticals and a Colombian pharma company for the production of vaccines and other biosimilars for the Colombian market and the rest of Latin America. Colombia only has 50 million people so we have to be a hub for the region. We would love to take a leaf out of India’s pharma playbook.

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.

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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