How an Indian diplomat is shaping Latin America’s growing relations with his country.
BY JOACHIM BAMRUD
In India he’s called “Mr. Latin America.” In Latin America he is seen as the key cheerleader for doing business with India.
Rengaraj Viswanathan, India’s ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay and his country’s leading expert on Latin America, receives widespread praise for his work in boosting Indian-Latin American business.
”Representing an Indian company has been much easier since the ambassador arrived as he has educated the people in the Southern Cone about the advantages of doing business with India,” says Gabriel Rozman, executive vice president of emerging markets for Tata Consulting Services.
Ruben Azar Scarone, president of Uruguayan logistics company Grupo RAS, agrees. “Ambassador Viswanathan has truly demonstrated his deep understanding of Latin American costumes and values,” he says. “Without any doubt, this distinctive value makes him highly efficient when advising Indian enterprises on the real and specific business possibilities in Latin America, and vice versa.“
Case in point: When Reliance, India’s top company, was planning an investment in a Latin American country they called Viswanathan for his political assessment of that nation.
PASSION FOR LATIN AMERICA
What makes Viswanathan unique, business leaders say, is his passion for Latin America. “I think the ambassador is unique …for his passion and love of this part of the world,” says Rozman, who has dealt with many Indian ambassadors in Latin America. “He truly enjoys talking to local people and assisting these countries to prosper.”
Azar agrees, calling the Indian ambassador a “declared passionate and lover of Latin America.”
In fact, the ambassador’s e-mail signature always features “Passionate about Latin America.”
Viswanathan is especially fond of Latin Americans’ way of life. “I like the Latinos who have mastered the art of enjoying life,” he says. “This is attractive for Indians who have been brought up in the Indian tradition of karma, sacrifice and simple living and high thinking and the advice to endure suffering for a better reincarnation…. Latinos are warm, open and friendly. I feel at home in any part of Latin America whether it is San Salvador or Sao Paulo. Of course, I like salsa and samba, tequila and caipirinha, football and carnival and Copacabana and Ipanema.”
That passion is combined with a deep understanding of Latin America spanning more than a decade. Apart from his current post – held since October 2007 – Viswanathan has served as India’s ambassador to Venezuela (2000-03), consul general in Sao Paulo in Brazil (1996-2000) and as head of the Latin America division at India’s foreign ministry in New Delhi (2004-07).
In addition to a hectic travel schedule – both within Latin America as well as promoting Latin America back home in India – Viswanathan shares his knowledge and passion through a web site, BusinessWithLatinAmerica.com and two blogs, one that is tied to the web site and another one called latinamericanaffairs.blogspot.com.
”When he writes his blog, one can see that this assignment is something that he enjoys and one where he adds a lot of value,” Rozman says.
The results of Viswanathan’s efforts are clear. Indian business with Latin America has taken off dramatically. Last year, Indian trade with Latin America jumped by 45.5 percent to $16 billion. Meanwhile, Indian companies have invested $9 billion in Latin America in pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, IT, steel, mining and other areas.
While much has to do with the fact that the areas are emerging markets keen on expanding to new export destinations, much of the results are also due to the aggressive efforts by Viswanathan.
“In the particular case of TCS, we have benefited in many ways. He is always available to be with us when we open new activities in Argentina and in Uruguay,” Rozman says. “When important Indian visitors arrive, we are always notified and invited to meet them. Most of all, when there are business opportunities like acquisitions, the ambassador puts TCS in contacts with potential partners or targets.”
When Viswanathan started the campaign about the Latin American business opportunities for Indian business twelve years ago, there were very few takers. “Today many CEOs and policy makers in the Indian government have realized the potential and future of what I have been calling as the New Latin America,” he says.
Indian companies and executives are now familiar not only with the big business centers of Sao Paulo and Mexico City, they have ventured even to less familiar countries like Bolivia and Nicaragua, he adds.
“He is an untiring and proud promoter of the incredible economic Indian revolution,” says Azar, who calls the ambassador “an exceptional human being.”
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