India set in motion the process of integrating with the far-off but rich in mineral and hydrocarbons states of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) by holding the first Foreign Minister-level talks with the organisation’s troika of Chile, Venezuela and Cuba here on Tuesday.

As the current chair of CELAC, Chile’s Foreign Minister Alfredo Charme noted at a joint media interaction after the meeting, “This is the first time that we have an international presentation to another country and that country is India.” The intention behind closer collaboration is both political and trade related — the CELAC countries share common positions with India on U.N. reforms, the international financial crisis, climate change and international terrorism. And trade with India is just one-tenth that with China, which means both sides need to improve on their existing trade agreements, he added.

Formed less than a year ago, the process of grouping 33 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean minus the U.S. and Canada has been a decade-long endeavour aimed at evolving as an alternative to the Washington-headquartered Organisation of American States (OAS), which many of these nations believe is too much in America’s shadow. CELAC also keeps out territories controlled by the former colonial powers such as the U.K., France and the Netherlands.

Joint committees

The meeting saw both sides agreeing to set up joint committees in half-a-dozen sectors, including trade, agriculture and energy security. The joint statement issued at the end of the interaction will be put forward to the CELAC heads of government when they hold their next high-level meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly next month in New York.

Among the welter of good intentions expressed by both sides, a seemingly tangible outcome was their concurrence on eliminating middle men in commodity trade and India’s offer to help CELAC members locate and estimate their mineral resources by using remote sensing satellites.

On the bilateral level, India and Chile have agreed to expand the limited trade agreement from 178 products to 1,100, which, as Mr. Charme noted, “covers almost all the goods that are exchanged between both countries.” At the same time, both sides will continue negotiations for a free trade agreement “which we believe we can obtain in a few weeks” [after the pact on 1,100 tariff lines is completed].

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