Latin America is a region that has the population of Western Europe and United States combined, a geographical area larger than Europe and United States put together, an economy three times the size of Bharat, and a per capita GDP 3x times developing East Asia and MENA (Middle East and North Africa).
Hindu cultures had, in their pre-colonial glory days, peacefully expanded trade throughout Asia and engaged culturally with China and even distant Japan and Rome. Recent Hindu international engagement however has largely been on the lines of its colonial legacy, following the British wherever they went or wherever they took us. While the Spanish (and the Portuguese) empire expanded through its colonial Governments in Latin America, Britain was left to play the role of traders and political brokers in the region, not requiring large immigrant labor to tend to its sugar cane plantations as in Fiji, Mauritius and even the Caribbean. What is striking is the vibrant presence of Hindu Dharma that defied persistent attempts by missionaries to convert and kill the ancient faith in neighboring Guyana and Surinam, but a complete absence in neighboring Northern Latin America. An invisible Lakshman Rekha of colonial legacy indeed!
However as the continent itself wakes up to democracy and is discovering its cultural and political sovereignty, albeit with multiple missteps, it is important for Hindus to cross the invisible boundaries of British colonial legacy and engage with Latin America on our own terms . Here are ten opportunities that Hindu entrepreneurs could use to create financial value:
Latin America controls resources that Hindu economies need. World copper is concentrated and Chile and Peru contain a lot of it. Environmentally sustainable timber forests are found in Brazil, Chile among others, unlike East Asia where forest cover is receding. Iron ore is controlled by Brazil and Australia today, and Brazilian internal industry is more fragmented in its production, though not in logistics. Land in Latin America is inexpensive, and with a long coast line, could be amenable for agriculture for exports. Land buying by foreigners is still acceptable and the region is generally welcoming to foreigners, with no great ethnic conflicts.
When commodity prices were higher, investing in these assets was far more difficult with a lot of competition. These assets are today available at more reasonable prices, and with insights in to Asian consumer markets, Hindu entrepreneurs are in a good position to extract value from such investments, as any other entrepreneur.
Latin America is home to an economy that is seeing the generation of a middle class. Recent cash transfer policies in the region have reduced income inequality. Brazil saw its income inequality index go from 55 % to 51% in the decade since 2001. Venezuela, a more problematic economy, reduced its income inequality from 49.5% in 1998 to 39% in 2011. Until the beginning of recession recently, this had translated in to a Brazilian consumption boom. With a per capita GDP at around USD 10K, these markets represent opportunities for Hindu products. Colombia, for instance, is already a great market for Bharatiya Motor Cycle brands – Bajaj holds 30 % market share in a nearly million motorcycles being sold in Colombia. TVS, Hero and Royal Enfield all are selling in to the market as well. Bharat’s generics companies sell almost USD 1 Billion worth of medicines in to the region.
The benefits of middle income economies is a combination of higher prices compared to Asia and regulatory and environmental regimes that are more investment friendly and allow a new entrant to grow gradually in product standards, as the economy implements regulations more in line with rich economies. For instance, Torrent Pharma in Brazil benefitted by avoiding expensive local bio equivalence studies in Brazil when Brazil opened up. Having established a presence in the market, as Brazil imposed increasingly tougher standards increasing cost of investments and lowering returns to latter entrants, Torrent has built a profitable USD 100 M business in Brazil, which cannot be threatened by latter entrants by timing its entry in to a favorable regulatory framework.
In new technologies too, Latin America is an exciting market. Take the example of mobile advertisements. While Latin America has a creative and large sized advertising industry and they even have a strong digital advertising landscape, mobile advertising is new in this region where mobile data rates have been very high in the past. As these rates decline and more people get smart phones, the prevalence of Android devices in Latin America compared to the higher proportion of iPhones in United States (the other credible competitor in this space), provides Hindu entrepreneurs with a great opportunity.
In agriculture and cosmetics, Argentina and Brazil could represent large markets, much larger than their economic ranking would imply. United Phosphorus is building a successful agrochemicals business in South America.
In his book, ‘India Inside’, Prof. Nirmalya Kumar talks about how Hindu entrepreneurs are already successful at innovating for large multinational corporations (MNCs). People of Bharat have found it difficult to brand their innovations or products. Hindu exports to the West are largely unbranded apparel, auto components, generics etc. However Latin America offers opportunities to create brands of Hindu origins. Bajaj in Colombia is a classic example, where Pulsar form the Bajaj stable signifies high quality not just in Colombia but throughout the Andean region including Peru and Ecuador.
Another opportunity to build brands is branding products from Latin America. Latin American exporters are relatively inexperienced in international marketing and business. Many products that currently are sold as commodities from Latin America, where Latin America has a dominant position, could increase their net price realization significantly by being branded. Coffee, orange juice, quinoa all are examples of this. Hindu entrepreneurs today do not have access to these cost effective supply chains from the countries they operate. They could help brand these products in consumer markets where they sometimes operate large retail businesses or distribution businesses.
4.) Global Scale in specific products:
Even in unbranded products, collaboration could help. Commodities which are supposed to be volatile, could still be good business if there is enough pricing power. Between Latin America and Hindu economies, huge industries could be controlled. Take vegetable oil or coal for instance. Bharat’s imports of palm oil and soy oil, could be combined if South East Asian companies work with Latin American companies to create a Global scale vegetable oil business. Coal mines in Colombia and Peru and Indonesia together can create significant pricing power for coal the way Brazil and Australia cornered the iron ore market. In coffee and tea, tea exporting Bharat and Sri Lanka and the Coffee exporting Brazil and Colombia could combine efforts to create a beverages conglomerate.
One key difference between Hindu economies and Latin America is the high levels of urbanization you find in Latin countries. If one plots a graph between per capita GDP and urbanization there is usually a linear correlation, but Latin America is a middle income region that has the urbanization levels of rich economies. Brazil for instance has the urbanization levels of United Kingdom at just 20 % of the per capita GDP. As Hindu cities urbanize, instead of looking to imitate the expensive and often unsustainable models of the rich Western countries, Latin American countries offer more appropriate models for smart cities. Especially in urban transportation by buses, Latin America could offer interesting lessons. The success of Marcopolo of Brazilian origin, through its Bharat’s Joint Venture with Tata Group, is a classic example. As it did not build its passenger railways, Latin American bus stations have evolved in to air-port like sophistication. Economic models in building urban infrastructure including budget housing and waste management of organic waste are other examples.
6.) Complementary spheres of influence with Bharat:
In the African continent, Bharat’s immigration and political influence is strong in commonwealth countries. Brazilian influence is stronger in Angola and may be in even Mozambique. Similarly around the world, Latin American influence is stronger in continental Europe, in countries such as Portugal, Spain and even France and Italy and Germany with strong immigrant ties to Latin America. Bharat’s influence is stronger in Britain, United States ( which is increasingly seeing a Hispanic influence) and Australia. By joining hands with Latin America, Hindu businesses can spread their influence wider.
Visas are much easier for Latin Americans visiting continental Europe. IT services companies could leverage this. European origin Multinationals such as Telefonica, Telecom Italia, Telecom Portugal and Santander, Isolux, Abengoa are not present in Hindu geographies in great strength or in the United States. Selling to them is probably easier starting in Latin America. Using a Latin country as a hub for distribution to the region or locating competence centers for other geographies in Latin America are all good ways to leverage this complementarity.
One specific area could be in the Auto components industry. As global OEMs look for fewer vendors to support simultaneous launch of new platforms, Mexico and Brazil with their strong auto component industries are great partners to Hindu auto component entrepreneurs in Bharat, Malaysia, UK etc. By forming a star alliance of sorts, Bharat and Latin suppliers can provide a credible competition to larger and global auto component suppliers. For specific models that are hatch back- such as Etios, Ecosport, UP and Datsun, this is a winning strategy.
In cosmetics too, combining Ayurveda with Amazonian plants, herbal and natural cosmetics brands could be launched.
As Latin America is passing through its current economic crises, many businesses are dying. This is a great opportunity for Hindu entrepreneurs with a lower cost of capital and access to different set of markets. Take the case of leather shoes for women. Brazil and Latin America once were large exporters to Europe. Today the leather shoe exports is uncompetitive due to the high cost economy Brazil has become. The designs and know-how and the reputation for Brazil made shoes continue. Bharat’s supply chain is cost competitive, but it does not have the skills to make leather shoes for women largely because the domestic market in Bharat is too small. Teaming up with Latin know how, Bharat’s leather exports could become a powerhouse for making women’s shoes.
The general point here is that as savings intensive Asian economies with their deeper stock markets (5000 companies in BSE versus just 400 in Sao Paulo), that provide access to capital for smaller and medium enterprises, have a great opportunity in specific industries in Latin America, with its higher cost of capital and not just higher operating costs as in Western Europe. Acquiring some of these businesses, and transmigrating their know-how and brand souls in to supply chain bodies of Hindu geographies, new business entities could be re-incarnated with vitality with good karma.
Latin America is closer to large markets in North America. Besides by treaties and agreements, it gets preferential access. Whether locating a Pharma unit in Mexico or apparel unit in Central America, there is a huge advantage of proximity. In Pharma some parts of the US Government purchases are mandated to buy from OECD or NAFTA countries and Mexico is not exporting much today in this area to United States. Marketing to Mexican immigrants, whose remittances are second only to people of Bharat from the Gulf to Bharat, but delivering these goods in Mexico is a growing business that companies such as La Curacao and Copel are specializing in. Hindu entrepreneurs in United States can sell Hindu goods from Bharat to the Hispanic population but deliver them in Mexico.
Latin America and Bharat share many cultural values. In his book, ‘Vislumbres de la India’ (Glimpses from Bharat), the great Latin American poet and writer Octavio Paz who also served as Ambassador to Bharat, writes that Mexico and Bharat are twins. With cultures such as the Mayan, who have surprising similarities with ancient Hindu culture, and affinity for mathematics, astronomy and Sun worship and others such as Aztecs and Incas, the region is a bridge between timeless eternity and the modern, much as Bharat is. Yoga, Ayurveda, Bollywood and Bharat’s colors and cuisine and Bharat’s Devatas and Gurus find loyal fans and admirers in the region.
Due to colonization and Euro-centric history, many of these similarities have not been explored. They provide great opportunities for Hindu entrepreneurs, and for spreading our spiritual message. While the Hindu philosophical tradition and the decentralized intellectual leadership of Dharma, helped Hindu Dharma survive colonial conquest and onslaught, many of these cultures have been reduced to non-entities and have been digested. However there is a mild awakening with some indigenous governments coming to power such as in Bolivia, which even has a minister for decolonization.
Many of these cultures will benefit from a Hindu perspective, where a strong philosophical tradition and a vibrant economy practice a Dharmic religion that has resonance with their own faiths. Such cultural linkages will strengthen acceptability of Bharat’s brands, ability for businesses of Bharat to attract talent and better deals- people always do better business with people similar to them.
Emerging markets have always occupied left of center positions of distributive justice in Global politics. This has meant they have attacked power structures of the incumbents and have been critical of traditional power structures in their own countries that have not been able to deliver against the colonial onslaught. However now with the re-emergence of these markets, they cannot be eternal protesters. They cannot just demand distribution but should also create power structures of their own. So the traditional left of center positions need to be balanced by cultural nationalistic right of center positions and politics. The tragedy of Latin America has been that this right of center has always been Euro centric.
As Thomas Piketty points out in his book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, this has led to wild swings between protectionism and low growth and opening up and hollowing out of emerging economies. Latin America is living through one such moment now as extreme left politics has led to low productivity and the Euro centric right is using the crisis to take back power. Bharat, with the continuity with its past, offers a potential model for a right of center politics, that is based on cultural nationalism. Engaging with Latin America will not only help the Latinos, but also provide greater credibility and legitimacy for this new right of center politics that talks about local power centers and not just tearing down global power concentration. A politics that does not just stop worshipping Indra, but also worships Govardhan and the great Krishna.
(NOTE: This article first appeared in a brochure for the WHEF [email protected] conference)
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