Jair Bolsonaro’s Visit: Transforming India-Brazil Ties

Thousands of miles away, but united by shared values and global aspirations, India and Brazil, the Latin American powerhouse, are set to take their multi-faceted ties to new heights during the January 24-27 state visit of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to New Delhi.

In a gesture reserved for only special friends of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited President Bolsonaro to be Chief Guest at the country’s Republic Day celebrations when they met in Brasilia for bilateral talks on November 13. This is the first time in many years that a leader from Latin America has been invited for India’s national day festivities, which underscores the growing importance of the region in India’s foreign policy calculus.

Upgrading Strategic Partnership 

The wide-ranging talks between Prime Minister Narendra and the Brazilian leader in New Delhi will culminate in a new template for scaling up India-Brazil partnership in virtually all areas, including economic, energy and strategic. The visit acquires a strategic importance in view of China’s deepening economic footprints in not just Brazil but in the entire region. The upgrade in strategic partnership, which was forged in 2006, will be reflected in the signing of the Strategic Partnership Action Plan and signing of around 15 agreements straddling diverse areas, including defence, counter-terrorism, hydro-carbons, healthcare and minerals.

The meeting between the two leaders in in Brasilia, on the margins of the BRICS summit, brought out vividly, in a miniature, diverse strands of the India-Brazil partnership. Mapping the road ahead, the two leaders agreed to “comprehensively enhance strategic partnership,” and identified major focus areas for bilateral trade and investment. These included, among others things, agricultural equipment, animal husbandry, post-harvest technologies and biofuels. The two leaders also discussed expanding cooperation in areas such as space and defence, which will provide greater strategic depth to the burgeoning partnership. The talks provided “further boost to the strategic partnership between the countries based on common global vision and shared values,” said an official statement.

Natural Partners

The forging of strategic partnership between India and Brazil in 2006 was an important milestone in the evolving partnership between the emerging powers of Asia and Latin America. A decade later, Brazil’s then President Michel Temer’s visit to India in 2016 provided a fresh momentum to this multi-layered partnership. Prime Minister Modi, who has visited Brazil twice (Fortaleza in 2014 and Brasilia in 2019), has famously described India and Brazil as “natural partners.” “Though separated by geography, Brazil and India are natural partners linked by common values of democracy, rule of law and shared aspirations for development, peace and prosperity,” said PM Modi after talks with President Temer in Goa in October 2016.

Economic Synergies

As two emerging economies of Asia and Latin America, India and Brazil, whose combined GDP is around $5 trillion, are set to infuse new economic vitality in their partnership. The economic aspect of the relationship will be showcased by a large business delegation, comprising CEOs of top Brazilian companies, that will accompany President Bolsonaro to India for the January 25-27 visit.

The interaction between top business leaders of India and Brazil is expected to flesh out a blueprint for upscaling two-way trade and investment. Buoyed by economic synergies, the two sides are expected to raise the bar and set ambitious targets for doubling current bilateral trade of around $8 billion in the next couple of years. PM Modi, who has described Brazil as among “India’s most important economic partners in Latin America,” is expected to offer India’s full support to President Bolsonaro’s economic resurgence agenda and exhort Brazilian companies to invest in India and forge long term commercial partnerships with Indian companies. India, on its part, will be pitching for greater market access and investment opportunities for Indian products and companies in Brazil.

The economic ties are set to be galvanised further as both India and Brazil look at each other as a zone of new opportunities. Brazil is 2.6 times bigger in area than India and has a five-fold per capita income than that of India, but has a population one-sixth of India. Brazil has huge reservoirs of natural resources and mineral deposits like iron ore, manganese, nickel, tungsten, diamonds, potassium, phosphate, tungsten, gold, lead and graphite. The Latin American powerhouse is also increasingly looking at India as a knowledge power with its proven expertise in IT sector and its prowess in biotech and pharmaceuticals industries.

In particular, plans to expand cooperation in areas like agriculture and energy security will see enhanced cooperation in months to come. In the agriculture sector, India can learn a lot from Brazil’s emergence as an agricultural superpower as it sets new benchmarks in productivity and modernises its technology of storage, distribution and agri-processing industries.

Brazil is one of the most important trading partners of India in the entire LAC (Latin America and Caribbean) region. The Brazil opportunity is finding a greater traction among Indian investors. Two-way investment is rising, with Indian companies investing more in Brazil comparatively than the other way around. With Bazil’s proven record as an energy power, the two countries are planning to collaborate in research and development of second-generation biofuels.

In 2018 India was the 11th biggest exporter to Brazil and 10th biggest importer from Brazil. While the Brazilian companies have invested in automobiles, IT, mining, energy, biofuels, footwear sectors in India, the Indian companies have invested in diverse sectors, including IT, Pharmaceutical, energy, agri-business, mining, engineering and automobiles.

Cultural Connect

It’s not just economics, geopolitics and energy that are driving India and Brazil to forge a deeper partnership. Brazilian people are known for their deep love for Indian culture, the arts, dance and philosophy. “They simply love Indian culture. There are more yoga centres in Brazil than in India,” says Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s former ambassador to Brazil who is now India’s Minister of State for Commerce and Civil Aviation. Setting the stage for enhancing people-to-people contacts, the Brazilian president recently announced a scheme for granting visa-free travel to Indian citizens for tourism and business.

The Way Ahead

Looking ahead, current trends and synergies are set to propel the India-Brazil relationship onto a higher trajectory. Enhancing trade and investment will certainly add more substance to this partnership, but what will impart it greater content is a growing convergence of strategic and global interests. As the two large economies of Asia and Latin America, India and Brazil are set to enhance their coordination to reform the global governance architecture.

The global canvas of the India-Brazil partnership is set to widen further with closer cooperation in a host of multilateral platforms, including BRICS, IBSA, G4, G20, BASIC and the United Nations. Taking a long-term view, Brazil’s Ambassador to India Andre Aranha Correa do Lago says: “Both our countries are going to continue to be extremely important for the next decades. We should mainstream this relationship in all dimensions as much as we can.” The forthcoming visit of President Bolsonaro to India will not only mainstream this crucial partnership, but will also open new vistas in a wide array of areas ranging from trade and investment, agriculture and food security, energy security, science, technology and innovations to climate change, counter-terrorism and UN Security Council reforms.

(Manish Chand is CEO-Editor-in-Chief of India and the World magazine and India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, a portal focused on global affairs).

-A version of this article was also published in India Perspectives, the flagship publication of India’s Ministry of External Affairs. 


Author Profile

Manish Chand
Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.