Andres Barbe has been the Ambassador of Chile to India since 2014. He is a post-graduate in African History from the University of Nairobi. He has served Chile in different capacities within the country as well as abroad, including Canada, Kenya, Peru and Argentina.
In this interview to Ashok Tuteja and Debdeep Mukherjee at the Embassy of Chile in posh Vasant Vihar, the 61- year-old Ambassador spoke at length about India-Chile relations and how the two countries propose to expand ties. Excerpts:
How do you see the current state of economic and political relations between India and Chile?
Well, the ties have enormous potential. In the international arena, we have similar views, we have very close and friendly relationship for so many years since we opened the Embassy here sometime around 1948-49. Even before, we participated in the ceremony of Indian independence in 1947…So it’s a long relationship. Not to forget, the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda while serving consular position in Sri Lanka came close to India and developed great friendship with another Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
It’s true that the connectivity is poor between these two geographically far-off countries. We don’t have a direct flight between India and Chile and we need to stop over somewhere to reach either nation. This is hampering greater people-to-people connection. We have many things in common.
Has the India-Chile Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) signed last year helped the two countries increase the volume of bilateral trade?
We just signed the PTA in November last year. It would benefit both sides. This agreement has expanded number of agreeable trade products between the two nations to 2,800 from 400. This deal will reduce the duties and encourage commerce between two sides. This is going to come into force on 16 May in Santiago in the presence of Indian embassy officials.
Sometime back, there was a proposal to train troops from Chile in Indian mountains and deserts. What is the current status?
We are not sending troops. Chile’s priorities have been to work with India though we don't have any defence agreement as of now.We have been involved with the Indians in multilateral maritime exercises in the Arabian Sea in the past and more possibilities are being explored.
How do you look at India's ties with Mercosur considering Chile is its associate member?
We are just associated with Mercosur but more active with Pacific Alliance. But in the last six months, we have tried to strengthen the alliance between Mercosur and Pacific Alliance of Chile, Peru, Mexico and Colombia. We have held meetings with Mercosur members.
India is an observer at Pacific Alliance. We invite India to be part of cooperation in specific areas like Information Technology (IT) and solar energy because India has a vast experience in these fields.
How do you see India's role in global affairs given the size of the country and its population?
Well, definitely India is one of the biggest and most important countries in the world. We recognise that and believe that India has played a role for a long time since the 1960s when the Non- Aligned Movement was launched. It is playing a role in BRICS and UN. In that sense, we are close to India and we support India's bid for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.
So Chile supports India's bid for a permanent seat at the UNSC?
Yes, we support India's bid but at the same time we believe that no nation (old and new) should have the veto power in the Security Council. We recommend modification of the Security Council. It's not fair for one nation to veto a proposal introduced by majority members. Once there is a majority in favour of a decision, it should not be vetoed. There should be democracy principally in UNSC too.
What is being done by Chile to promote people to people contact with India?
We are doing what we can to facilitate easy travel especially for entrepreneurs and businessmen along with students. Indian students interested in South American studies go to Chile for post-graduate courses. It's definitely not a large community, around 100 students now. For us it's a large group.
We are trying to promote Chile as a tourist destination through our attaches and honorary consuls in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. Even in Kolkata book fair, we tried to promote Chilean tourism and we are also trying to promote Chile as a honeymoon destination. It is possible to find a complete variety of climates: from the driest desert to the polar climate with glaciers in Patagonia.
Are any high-level visits from either side in the offing?
Last year, the former President of Chile came to visit India and this year we would hold political consultations between the two sides in Santiago in July. As Chilean presidential elections are scheduled for November, a high-level visit is unlikely this year.