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In what will be the first foreign trip of his tenure, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu will leave for Guatemala, Panama and Peru on Sunday. Increasing Chinese interests in the region make the trip geopolitically significant. During the week-long tour, Naidu has more than 25 engagements scheduled, including meetings and discussions with Presidents, Vice Presidents and presiding officers of legislatures of these three countries, and hold delegation-level talks.
He will also address local Indian communities and students in these countries, and visit the Panama Canal too. Naidu’s visit to Guatemala, the most populous and largest economy in Central America, is the highest ever political visit from either side. Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh last visited the country in May 2015.
The country has diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and not with China, and its relations with Pakistan are minimal. India has negative trade balance with Guatemala. Panama, the first Central American nation to establish diplomatic relations with India in 1962, has been warming up to China in recent years. Following the visit of Panamanian President to China last year, Beijing announced several direct flights to Panama City as part of its growing engagement. India has positive trade balance with Panama. Panama has the highest presence of Indian diaspora of 15,000 — most them descendants of people who went there for construction of the Panama Canal and railways more than a century ago.
Naidu’s visit to Peru comes soon after a change of government there. He will also participate in the celebration of 55 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. India’s bilateral trade of about $3 billion with Peru is the highest among these three countries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with then Peruvian President on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in July 2014 laid the foundation of a more proactive engagement between the two countries. Mining provides almost 50 per cent of the total export earnings of Peru. Since 2011, China has become the biggest trading partner of Peru, displacing the US.
Naidu will be accompanied on the trip by Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Jasvantsinh Sumanbhai Bhabhor; Rajya Sabha MPs Tiruchi Siva (DMK), Anil Desai (Shiv Sena) and Chhaya Verma (Congress); Lok Sabha MP Kamlesh Paswan (BJP), besides Secretary to Vice President I V Subba Rao, and senior officials of the External Affairs Ministry.