SAO TOME and Principe: The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe became one of the founding members of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) in 1996. The other founding member countries were Portugal, Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique. Timor-Leste and Equatorial Guinea joined the community later.
The CPLP, also known as the Lusophone Commonwealth, is an international organization and political association. Currently, the CPLP consists of nine member states 32 associate observers, and four organizations. India became an Associate Observer in July 2021.
The role of CPLP
So what brings these countries, separated by great distances and continents together? The CPLP was formed in Lisbon between the Lusophone nations across the world, who were former colonies of Portugal and where Portuguese is the official language.
Portuguese is a global language with more than 270 million speakers, including in India (Goa), which was also linked by a shared culture and history. The CPLP nations have a combined area of about 11 million km, which is larger than Canada and the European Union.
CPLP started with three key areas of action: Political and Diplomatic Coordination, Cooperation in several areas, and promotion and dissemination of the Portuguese Language.
The community has grown beyond its mission of fostering cultural ties between the Portuguese language countries into facilitating trade and economic and political cooperation between its member countries.
Countries like Timor-Leste, Sao Tome, and Guinea-Bissau, which are so far apart geographically, have been brought together under this umbrella.
CPLP has increased its credibility and visibility, the proof of which lies in the number of countries that have increasingly intensified their institutional relations with the organization. Likewise, civil society has intensified its institutional dialogue with CPLP. Over 70 entities have already been granted the status of Consultative Observers.
As a bloc, the CPLP has been active in confronting challenges faced by its member countries. For instance, CPLP was effective in resolving political upheavals in São Tomé and Príncipe and Guinea-Bissau, enabling them to stabilize and embark on economic and democratic reforms. It was also involved in peace-making efforts in Angola and Mozambique.
Some of its other main initiatives included the HIV-Aids program designed to help the 5 African member states; establishment of the Center for the Development of Entrepreneurial Skills in Luanda; Center for the Development of Public Administration in Maputo; Emergency Project for the support of Institution rebuilding in Guinea-Bissau; Support to Sao Tome to fight Malaria and a host of projects to address poverty and starvation.
But a significant achievement is that these nine Portuguese-speaking nations signed agreements to facilitate cross-border movement of their citizens for any purpose and issue residency permits for all CPLP citizens in every one of the member countries.
However, their efforts fell short as they could not agree on the adoption of common citizenship for CPLP member countries.
Consequent to joining the CPLP as an Associate Observer in July 2021, Minister of State for External Affairs Mrs. Meenakshi Lekhi had remarked “sets a new platform for strengthening India’s historic bonds of friendship with Lusophone countries and pursuing cooperation in areas of mutual interest. The move will further enrich and strengthen India’s ties with the Portuguese speaking world”.
As an Associate Observer, India may participate, without the right to vote, in the summits. It will have access in the council of ministers to non-confidential documentation.
Significance for India
For India, associate membership will give a new impetus to historical bonds, deepen ties through a Lusophone Partnership and forge a strategic relationship.
Though the Indo-Portuguese relationship can be traced back to the arrival of the Portuguese in India about 500 years ago, bilateral diplomatic ties were only established in 1974-75. Since then, bilateral ties have progressed tremendously, both politically and culturally, but their economic and strategic aspects hold higher potential.
Both India and Portugal are looking for new partners. Driven by their political and strategic compulsions, India is looking West and Portugal is looking South.
While India will continue to pursue formal bilateral engagements with the member countries individually and bilaterally, CPLP provides an opportunity to forge a Lusophone partnership – “Portuguese-speaking niche diplomacy” with the member countries. These regions are of growing importance to India, especially in places where new Indian resident missions have been opened.
In the field of investments and trade, infrastructure and renewable energy are two sectors that carry tremendous potential for bilateral cooperation. India may have easier access to sectors where it enjoys a comparative advantage, such as pharmaceuticals, medical, solar energy, railways, biotechnology, information technology, tourism, and hospitality.
As CPLP is Africa-centric, cooperation with India in areas such as food security, capacity building, and tropical health, would be of immediate interest. Other possibilities are the development of people-to-people linkages and Track-II engagement.
Strengthening Strategic Relationship
CPLP will enable a much closer strategic relationship for India with the member countries. Four key areas hold good prospects for deeper cooperation: multilateral cooperation; combating terrorism, defense cooperation, and maritime collaboration.
Cooperation with third-member countries such as Brazil, South Africa, and Portugal offers exciting possibilities. Academicians have talked about Portuguese expertise and leverage, Brazilian technology, and Indian capital coming together.
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