With the increase in remote work due to the pandemic, the number of cyber-attacks has risen by 20% worldwide. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, Latin America is an easy target because the region has no cyber infrastructure to resist or prevent them. And the numbers prove it: the region lost $90 billion to cyberattacks in 2019 and suffered $137 billion in attempted cyberattacks in the first six months of 2022.
It is in this context that India's Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) opened the first Cybersecurity Center for Latin America. Based in Querétaro, Mexico, the center has 500 engineers specialized in cybersecurity to provide services to strategic chains such as healthcare and the financial industry. TCS is just one example of the impact that Indian companies have on productive and technological processes in Latin America.
Some 20 Indian information technology (IT) companies employ more than 40,000 people in Latin America. Although they initially sought to benefit from the 'nearshoring' model to serve clients in the US, today most of their clients are Latin American - from local governments and large banks to universities and the healthcare sector.
These companies are driving the digitization of Latin America, using machine learning and artificial intelligence to take the region to Industry 4.0. Although these investments almost never make headlines, they are key in a region looking to diversify away from dependence on extractive industries and commodity exports.
Moreover, these IT companies have a major impact on the people and society of Latin America. There is a popular saying in the IT sector: "talent is the only asset." Companies in this sector do not need a lot of machinery or large capital. Their priority is human talent. In Mexico itself, Indian IT companies have partnerships with more than 130 public and private universities. They regularly conduct training programs and are also part of the advisory board in several universities to support in curriculum design.
India's brand in Latin America is through 'sophisticated' investments in the services and manufacturing sector, stimulating value-added sectors (a contrast to China's investments in raw materials). One Indian auto parts company alone, the Samvardhana Motherson Group, has 27 manufacturing plants in Latin America employing 25,000 people - more than all the employment generated by China's automotive companies in the region. The bottom line? Indian investment creates far more jobs on average. According to a study by the Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia, "for every $1 million invested in Colombia, India created 24.6 jobs, while the Asia-Pacific region 3.5 and the rest of the world 2.7."
India's reach in Latin America is so deep in certain sectors such as automobiles, pharmaceuticals and IT that it often surpasses even China. India has exported more medicines to Latin America than China throughout the 21st century. The only exception occurred in 2021 for China's increased exports of COVID vaccines.
A major difference separates New Delhi and Beijing's strategy towards Latin America: for two decades, China has formulated a fixed policy for Latin America through white papers, while the Indian government has no official policy for the region, as the relationship is driven more by the private sector. But this reality is slowly changing. Indian Foreign Minister Dr. S Jaishankar's trip to Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay from August 22-27 was the latest sign of increased political will in India-Latin America relations. Following the chancellor's visit to Mexico in September last year, these high-level visits boost India-Latin America economic ties.
Another important change has occurred in the corridors of power in New Delhi: India's foreign minister is now in charge of three Latin American countries - Argentina, Brazil and Mexico - which were previously served by the deputy foreign minister. The reason for this change? India is prioritizing the G20 (Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are part of the group) and is taking over the rotating presidency of the group from December 2022.
What is behind this visit of the Indian Foreign Minister? In Argentina, the focus was on food security, as India is the largest importer of Argentina's soybean oil, and they also discussed the issue of lithium, a strategic mineral that Argentina has in abundance. Argentina's air force also has India in its sights, evaluating the possibility of buying the HAL Tejas, a multi-role fighter jet.
The India-Brazil relationship is probably the most important within the India-Latin America branch of relations, and the foreign minister's visit cemented the various interests in bilateral ties, including the expansion of the India-Mercosur partial scope agreement. In Paraguay, the foreign minister inaugurated the new Indian embassy in Asuncion - India's fifteenth embassy in Latin America and the Caribbean.
What can we expect in the future of India-Latin America relations? At the end of the day, both are democracies (with some exceptions such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela) and developing economies. They face similar challenges of poverty, financial inclusion, gender inequality, political corruption, lack of infrastructure and good quality healthcare.
India's path in Latin America is being built by the private sector, whose initiatives are self-driven and not woven by a central authority. Unlike the case of China, India-Latin America relations are not going to be affected by political or ideological changes on either side. Taking a leaf from the poet Antonio Machado, the relationship between India and the region can be explained with the following phrase: "Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar" (translated to English: “walker, there is no path, the path is made by walking”).