Last weekend, Foreign Relations Secretary (SRE) Claudia Ruiz Massieu paid a two-day working visit to New Delhi, during which time she met with her Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, ostensibly to beef up bilateral cooperation in the areas of technology, energy and scientific interchange and to increase alliances with what Mexico has dubbed a “strategic political and economic partner.”
During her visit, Ruiz Massieu also met with a group of private sector entrepreneurs, made a call on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and delivered a flowery lecture on the unexploited potential of two-way relations at the Indian Council of World Affairs.
But while the foreign secretary’s visit to India was certainly a symbolic gesture acknowledging the 66-year-old binational diplomatic relation between Mexico and the world’s largest democracy (in 1950, Mexico became the first country in Latin America to establish formal ties with New Delhi after the South Asian nation’s independence), Ruiz Massieu’s passage to India may have constituted little more than a diplomatic photo-op courtesy embellished with the traditional niceties of protocol and international flattery.
And that would be a shame, because despite serious concerns of poverty, corruption and regional political instability, India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world today, and Mexico could learn a lot from the Land of Bharat.
Indeed, the flamboyant Mr. Modi and his right-leaning Baratiya Janata Party (BJP) may well have tallied up their fair share of corruption and influence-peddling allegations (what modern-day Indian politician hasn’t?), but since coming to power on a pro-growth platform in 2014, the Indian prime minister has effectively streamlined bureaucracy, curbed government intervention in private sector activities and courted both inside and outside investment with a series of business-friendly schemes.
As Indian Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Ashutosh Kumar Agrawal recently pointed out during his reception to mark that nation’s 67th Republic Day, India’s current GDP is more than $2.2 trillion, and in terms of purchasing power, it is the third-largest economy in the world.
“India’s economy is likely to grow at 7.5 percent in 2016, which would make it the fastest-growing major economy in the world,” Agrawal said.
Agrawal specifically mentioned India’s telecom industry, which is the world’s fastest-growing, its auto industry, which is the second-fastest-growing, and its pharmaceutical industry, which also is gaining ground in the international marketplace.
“Moreover, Indian IT industries employ around 3 million professionals and generate revenues of more than $180 billion annually,” he said. “And we have mastered the boundless power of the atom for energy and medicinal use.”
Agrawal went on to point out that Indian scientists have reached Mars and that the country is self-sufficient in food production.
“We are a leading producer of food grain, fruits, vegetables, fish and milk,” he said.
And while Agrawal admitted that poverty and social inequality still pose serious setbacks for India, he said the country is making strides to rectify the situation.
“The population of India living below the poverty line has decreased from 60 percent in 1981 to about 22 percent today,” he said.
(Here in Mexico, 42 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line, so while in gross terms, India has more people in living in poverty, in percentage terms, Mexico has more.)
As Agrawal said, since its independence from Great Britain, India has been led by a succession of governments that have prioritized education and skill development in order to empower the poor.
“The administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched a new era of inclusion and empowerment to tackle poverty though the creation of new bank accounts for 190 million people, with the direct transfer of benefits and subsidies, and through funds to the unbanked, making insurance within the reach of all and establishing retirement pensions for everyone,” he said.
“The government is also creating infrastructure to meet people’s basic needs in housing, access to potable water, sanitation, electricity, education and medical care at accessible prices.”
Most importantly, the diplomat said, the Modi administration is helping to facilitate business ventures by creating an investment-friendly environment to attract both national and foreign capital.
“The government has also launched several flagship programs to boost growth and employment, including Make in India, Skill India and Start-Up India,” he said.
Additionally, there are programs to foster digital enterprises, industrial corridors and smart cities.
“The Make in India program has picked up well with an increase of 40 percent in foreign direct investment commitments in 2015, including the latest $12 billion commitment from Japan,” Agrawal said.
“And the Skill India endeavor has found experienced and responsive partners in places ranging from Germany to Singapore.”
In other words, Modi and India are banking on the private sector to steer the country through the current global economic storm of a strong U.S. dollar, a slowdown in China and stagnation in the eurozone.
It is providing the infrastructure and impetus to encourage private investment and then stepping back and letting business be done without the cumbersome yoke of unnecessary red tape.
And that is what is fueling the Indian economy.
India and Mexico have a strong commercial and economic relationship, with a combined bilateral trade of more than $6.5 billion annually.
Indian companies have so far invested in Mexico to the tune of about $1.5 billion, and there are at least 35 Indian companies active in Mexico and almost 90 Indian firms with representative offices here.
Mexico has for a while recognized India as a significant trade and investment partner.
Now it should look to New Delhi as a possible mentor.
Thérèse Margolis can be contacted at [email protected].