We have been waiting for years for investments from India. There are strategic matters why we should be together, and the most important thing we have to offer is lithium, says Sergio Arispe
India and Bolivia have shared cordial relations for a long time. At a time when India is expanding its sphere of influence across the globe, Bolivia cant be left out from the picture. The country is a gold mine of lithium reserves. India requires a large amount of it to fuel its renewable energy and electric vehicles programme. It has, in fact, initiated dialogues with the so called ‘lithium triangle’ — a group of countries comprising Chile, Argentina and Bolivia — that sits on the world’s largest lithium deposits, and is seeking investments from Indian businesses to develop some large mines there.
In an exclusive interview with Taniya Tikoo, Bolivia’s Ambassador to India Sergio Arispe discusses the bilateral ties between the countries, the challenges in improving business relations and Bolivia’s reserves of Lithium. Edited excerpts:
What is your take on the current standing of India-Bolivia bi-lateral relations? Are you satisfied with its trajectory?
If you ask the common folks around what’s the capital of our country, nine out of 10 times they wont know. The sooner we stop seeing each other as exotic destinations, the better we will co-operate. We are the future of the world. We are both really young countries; our future lies with each other. The sooner we realise this, the sooner we will work together. We will start selling and buying in each others markets. We see the future of humanity in countries such as yours. We are expecting our minister of foreign affairs to be here next month. This is our way of enhancing diplomatic and economic ties with India.
What took so long for Bolivia to open up the first embassy in India (in 2012)?
To be honest, we are not quite there yet. India needs to do much more to strengthen its ties with Latin America. Of course, India has strong relations with Latin American countries. You talk about India in Mexico. But who isn’t present in Mexico. Why isn’t India in Bolivia? We have been waiting for years for investments from India. There are strategic matters why we should be together, and the most important thing we have to offer is lithium.
India is going to require lithium in the near future for its energy reserves. We have the largest natural reserves for it. This could be our bonding element.
What are the challenges in improving the ties between the two countries?
I think we must improve in simple steps. The first one of which should be India opening its embassy in Bolivia, and not just have a concurrent embassy, as it has now in Peru. I think, India should expand its presence in the entire region of Latin America. The region is waiting for it. It needs to realise that the business environment in Bolivia is easier than you think. Indian businessmen can perfectly enhance and thrive in a country like Bolivia.
Why is there such a low or almost zero frequency of high-level bi-lateral visits?
We are looking forward to a bi-lateral visit next month. The frequency of visits may not be as high as you might expect, but then again, we are a developing country that is now starting to expand. But to expand from our region to a far off land of Southeast Asia, such as the likes of India, is a much bigger challenge in itself. Slowly, but surely we will be here. When our foreign minister comes here, it will set the grounds for a presidential visit. A presidential visit is much more finely detailed. And I am pretty sure that India would be glad to receive a president such as ours.
What is it that you would want Indian businessmen to experience in Bolivia?
I want the mining sector to come to India to present our vast portfolio. I am sure India could benefit from it, considering the growth rates that you are expressing. In recent times, there has been an increasing interest from leading Indian businessmen from India in Bolivia. There are a large number of businessmen who have been travelling to Bolivia, many of them even have institutional presence there. We are close to closing a deal with Tata in Bolivia. Tata is now going to Bolivia to experience lithium.