India seeks to break into ‘Lithium triangle’
President Ram Nath Kovind’s ongoing visit to Bolivia today marks another step in India’s bid for a strategic breakthrough in Latin America.
Kovind is next scheduled to visit Chile where his top talking point with President Sebastián Piñera will be the same as with Bolivian President Evo Morales — a pie from the famed Lithium triangle spread over three countries, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. India had sewn the Argentina end up with a visit by its President Mauricio Macri to New Delhi last month.
Lithium is a much sought rare metal for airplanes and batteries and its demand is forecast to climb as stricter emission rules compel the world to migrate from fossil fuel to battery-powered electric cars.
As Venezuela and its oil become less attractive, India is also displaying interest in Bolivian and Brazilian oil. Kovind during his talks in La Paz sought to make India useful in an ambitious multi-country railway project that would link both these countries. It will especially be a boon for the landlocked Bolivia since the railway, cutting across the heart of Latin America, will give it access to both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Interestingly, both Chile and Bolivia have been trying to balance Chinese interest in both the railway project and lithium mines by involving other countries. Bolivia recently overlooked a Chinese claim while awarding a Lithium mining project to a German company.
The pressure on fellow socialist and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has made Morales politically vulnerable. As the Indian $100 million credit line will help the Bolivian President shore up his political support base by investment in the health sector, India can expect an easier entry into the lithium and hydrocarbon sectors. Bolivia has acknowledged the importance of the visit by honouring the Indian President with its highest distinction, the Condor of the Andes in the Grand Collar grade.
Though in Latin American politics Chile belongs to the pro-US camp, Kovind will also touch on cooperation in the lithium sector. Khanij Bidesh India Ltd, a consortium of three Indian PSUs, has already visited Bolivia, Chile and Argentina to assess the prospects of cooperation with these Lithium triangle countries.