The 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) chose India as its first dialogue partner because of its size, similar political positions on most issues and New Delhi’s affinity with the causes of the developing countries, Chile Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno told The Hindu here on Wednesday.

Chile is the pro tem Chairman of CELAC, formed only late last year, and its Foreign Minister along with those from Cuba and Venezuela held talks with their counterpart S.M. Krishna here on Tuesday.

Besides India’s close association with the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), another reason why the country was selected for the first international presentation was its proactive diplomacy.

“The Rio Group [which merged with another grouping to form CELAC] had met Indian officials on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last year and they suggested that we meet either in India or Latin America,’’ said Mr. Moreno.

“Since we agree on most things we said why not? For example one of the things we are always concerned about is the [US] embargo on Cuba. India has the same position. On the Malvinas [Falklands for the British] we are getting Argentina and UK to sit down and negotiate. So I feel the position of India on many world affairs is quite similar to what we have,’’ the Chilean Minister added.

Bilateral business

On the bilateral front too, Chile wrapped up some unfinished trade related business. Currently, both have a partial trade agreement under which 178 export products from Chile and 122 from India enjoy concessional tariff. Both sides are now moving towards lower tariffs on 3,000 products of which less than 50 per cent will be from Chile and the remaining from India.

This means an average reduction of 20 per cent on the usual import tariff.

In two or three months, subject to various approvals, “we will move to a situation where 50 per cent will have 70 per cent or more reduction in tariff. These will cover most products traded between Chile and India,” said Mr. Moreno.

CEPA

This will then set the stage for negotiations on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), the first that India will have signed with a Latin American country. “As trade volume increases, we will be in touch directly with India entrepreneurs and so the transaction cost will reduce,” Mr. Moreno said when asked about the distance issue; it takes 45 days and two intermediate port calls for a ship travelling from India to Latin America.

“Latin America and the Caribbean have young countries. These are lands of opportunity for India,” he added.

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