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November 8, 2013

India’s bridge to the Lusophone world

India should create the Goa Forum to institutionalise its growing economic and cultural interactions with its Lusophone partners.

lusophoneIn 2003 the Chinese government established the Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation between China and the Portuguese speaking countries, also referred to as the Macau Forum. It is made up of eight countries: Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, China, Guinean Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and Timor-Leste, with Macau as an Observer member. The Atlantic island nation of Sao Tome and Princepe does not participate due to the fact that it has diplomatic ties to Taiwan and has refused Beijing’s invitation to participate as an observer. This Lusophone community is spread across four continents and covers more than 250 million people.

The Macau Special Administrative Region hosts the Macau Forum under the auspices of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, with the Chinese government providing most of the funding for the Forum, and the Macanese government contributing a smaller portion. In addition to promoting commercial ties between China and the Lusophone community, the Forum also organises training courses and investment seminars for member countries’ officials, and it funds a number of media publications. These publications report on economic and trade matters and provide information on the lusophone countries’ and China’s economy. Adding to this focus, the Forum hosts a ministerial-level meeting to discuss economic and trade matters every two years.

A decade after Beijing’s investment has paid handsomely. In 2003–06, trade between China and the Lusophone countries more than tripled, growing from US$10 billion to US$34 billion, and in 2011 despite the global economic slowdown it reached $117.23 billion. In 2009, Brazil, the world’s seventh-largest economy, became China’s largest trading partner in the southern hemisphere, with bilateral trade reaching US$42 billion. China also surpassed the US as Brazil’s main trading partner after more than 80 years of American dominance.

In Africa, Angola has been China’s largest trading partner on the continent since 2008 — with bilateral trade reaching US$24 billion in 2010 — and between 2007- 2008, temporarily became China’s main oil supplier China was Mozambique’s third-largest trading partner in 2010. China has also become a major source of soft loans for the two countries, granting Angola a reported US$15 billion since 2002 and over US$2 billion to Mozambique.

China has gained substantial diplomatic support through these relations, particularly on issues such as human rights, trade and global warming. Chinese navy pilots have trained on the Brazilian aircraft carrier São Paulo, and both countries have jointly produced satellites as well as a jetliner. Portugal also seems open to the idea of lifting the EU arms embargo on China — which the EU implemented after the Tiananmen crackdown  has ben sympathetic voice on disputes with the EU such as te recent row over solar panels.  .

While the Macau Forum is not the only force behind the impressive expansion in Sino-Lusophone relations, it has certainly played a crucial role in accelerating the process. With minimal, but rather smart, investment, China has obtained tremendous economic and diplomatic gains at a small price.

Enter the elephant

India is particularly well poised to emulate similar success through the Lusophone world where Indian companies are fast gaining ground. As with the case of China, Portugal was the first to establish colonial possessions in India and the last to leave when a recalcitrant fascist government in Lisbon was forced out of Goa by the Indian army in 1961.

Goa and the other former Portuguese territories such as Damao, Dio, Dadra and Nagar Haveli have preserved many Lusophone characteristics and India being a democratic country, has done so freely and proudly. Goa the smallest state in the Union is amongst the wealthiest in India. Before the rise of Bangalore in the late 1990s, it had the highest GDP per capita in the country. Goa is an economic success story with a lively civil society and a diversified economy. As such it would be well placed to become a hub for Indo-Lusophone engagement and be beneficial for all the parties concerned. The creation of the Goa Forum would allow New Delhi a space to develop and cultivate close ties with countries such as Brazil and resource rich nations like Angola and Mozambique, while also allowing interaction with countries that have little contact with New Delhi, such has Sao Tome and Princepe, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau and Timor-Leste.

India’s presence in some of the Lusophone countries is increasing. For instance Indian companies have invested several billions in the gas and coal sectors in Mozambique. While in Angola and Brazil, Indian oil companies are slowly but steadily entering the market. In many Lusophone countries, there are large communities of Indians, especially the Goanese. These Indian communities tend to be influential in both politics and business. A Goanese, Professor Narana Cossoro was the speaker of the Portuguese Parliament and is one of the leading European authorities on India. In Timor-Leste, Dr Roque Rodrigues was a former Minister of Defence and is currently a senior advisor to the President. The country’s current police commander Longuinhos Monteiro is also of Goanese ancestry and several former ministers in Mozambique have Indian ancestry.

India should take advantage of these cultural and historical links to advance its economic and diplomatic interest among an increasingly important group of countries. The creation of the Goa Forum should not be seen as a way to counter China, but rather as a forum that benefits all concerns and focuses on economic and cultural aspects. Goa could also become a hub for educational and other exchanges with students and government officials, particularly in areas like tourism and IT being trained in the territory. Goa would be the perfect venue to host business meetings between Indian business interests and their Lusophone counterparts.

In November this year, Goa will host the third Jogos da Lusofonia– the Lusophone version of the Commonwealth games. In addition to the 8 Lusophone countries, Sri Lanka and Equatorial Guinea, two countries with strong Portuguese cultural influences will also attend. This is an important first step. However, New Delhi in cooperation with its Lusophone partners should seriously consider institutionalising this growing economic and cultural interactions and create the Goa Forum. In January 2014, Goa will host the first conference between businessmen from the Portuguese speaking countries and India.

In visits to Angola, Portugal, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau and contacts in Timor-Leste between October 2010 and March 2013, the author raised the idea with several senior Lusophone officials ranging from head of state to ministers and ambassadors. The idea has been received with  sympathy. It’s now up to New Delhi to respond.

Photo: Ernest W Adams 


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