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“The example of India’s funding and humanitarian aid in Sri Lanka for the world”


Tell us about the energy security engagement 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 successfully tendered its own fields and is expected to start producing more than 40,000 barrels per day by next year. It is a high quality oil. With the war in Ukraine, both countries worked for the security of energy supply. Last year we were able to secure some coal exports during the energy crisis, but this year we couldn’t because Europe and China secured those 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 collaborations on India’s energy transition?

I can’t wait to be there. Colombia has gone from around 0.2% alternative fuels in our energy mix to almost 9%. Colombia is also part of IRENA. My Embassy has also asked Bogota to consider joining the International Solar Alliance.

Talks about critical minerals?

We haven’t talked about critical or rare minerals with India. Colombia was virtually unexplored for these minerals because we were in the middle of a conflict. We are now in the sixth year of a peace agreement and now have the opportunity to review this. Many of Colombia’s rare mineral deposits are also found in environmentally sensitive areas.

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

Pharmaceuticals are a priority. What India has built with its pharmaceutical ecosystem is simply amazing. This is something that Colombia must learn. India has a high-tech, innovative pharmaceutical industry that manufactures affordable and accessible medicines. No other country has this. Four MoUs are almost ready for signing. One is on medical research with the Indian Council of Medical Research, another is to strengthen the pharmaceutical relationship, another between our regulatory agencies and one on biotechnology.

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

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

Is India discussing a preferential trade agreement with Colombia?

There have been discussions but they are progressing very slowly. There are certain sensitive areas, particularly in agriculture. Colombia has over 17 free trade agreements in place and the Ministry of Commerce is looking into this issue. We have advanced a study in Colombia, as has the Indian part. But the two sides have yet to exchange those 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 using Colombia as a hub to other markets like Brazil. Indian IT companies are doing well in the finance and insurance sectors. I encouraged them to look to other sectors like manufacturing and government. Indian companies have a very good reputation in the country and like to work with local employees unlike other foreign countries who like to bring in their own workers.

There is a feeling that India and Latin America have underinvested in their relationship and are not in each other’s thinking. What is your meaning of this question?

I think India is making great strides with Latin America. India has a real opportunity to examine the Pacific Alliance and organizations such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), CELAC and other multilateral organizations in the region. Minister Jaishankar is leading this effort. Since I arrived in India in early 2021, it is amazing to see the number of visits by Minister Jaishankar, Minister Lekhi and government secretaries to the region. However, beyond governments, person-to-person connections will be very important. Often the links between people and the private sector lead to the public sector.

The two countries have also begun to consider cooperation in space. Could you tell us something about that?

Minister Lekhi visited Colombia and an Aerospace Memorandum of Understanding was signed with ISRO. I then visited ISRO and our Minister of Science and Technology presented a proposal for the use of a satellite which will be used for peaceful purposes such as agriculture, meteorological measurements and demographic measurements, among others. The only satellite that Colombia launched into space was launched by ISRO. In addition, the Minister of Science and Technology spoke to ISRO about the joint development of a satellite. We are currently developing it ourselves and are having challenges as we don’t have the technology. Of course, other countries have come and offered their expertise and India is on a list of countries that will collaborate. However, a final decision will have to be made by the new Minister of 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 intensifies, how is the region and Colombia specifically seeking to manage these tensions?

We are very close to the United States. We have always looked north and also have a large diaspora in the United States. America has also been our greatest cooperation partner. On the other hand, China has also come to Colombia and other countries in the region. For example, China is building the Bogota metro. It is also involved in telecommunications, connectivity and infrastructure in the country.

Colombia is located in the heart of the Americas. As President Petro of Colombia said, we must not meddle with these superpowers. I must say that India’s position on this issue is highly respected. We live in a world of many uncertainties. I think Colombia are doing a good job of pushing forward and trying to take it one step at a time without breaking any eggs.

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

I really started to understand what soft power is once I arrived in India. Culture is an important part of my diplomatic mission here. We have started to negotiate a memorandum of understanding on the co-production of audiovisual content. The dream would be to shoot a Bollywood film in Bogota, Medellin or Cali in Colombia. This is a Memorandum of Understanding between our Ministry of Culture and your Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

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