Historically good bilateral relations between India and Serbia were reconfirmed at the beginning of this year, in talks between the prime ministers of the two countries, Messrs Vučić and Modi, while a new era of good cooperation should be marked by the strengthening of economic cooperation – for which, as a precondition, there are existing intergovernmental agreements. In this interview for CorD, Indian Ambassador H.E. Narinder Chauhan addresses the foreign policy of her massive and economically powerful country and possible responses to global challenges, but also talks about her engagement in the promotion of yoga, which she says can “guide” those who practise it “towards right action and a lifestyle guided by compassionate concern for the happiness of others”.
Are you satisfied with the way International Day of Yoga is marked in Serbia?
– Yoga is gaining popularity in Serbia. The 3rd International Day of Yoga (IDY) was marked by morning yoga exercises on 17th June at the historic Kalemegdan Fortress on the Victor’s Plateau overlooking the confluence of the rivers Sava and Danube. In addition, yoga was also organised on a boat on the Danube on the evening of 21st June. Apart from Belgrade, IDY was marked in other Serbian cities, including Novi Sad, Šabac, Niš, Kruševac, Inđija, Jagodina, Zrenjanin, Apatin, Subotica, Knjaževac, Sremska Mitrovica, Kula, Aleksinac etc. Workshops on Yoga, Ayurveda and Homeopathy were organised in Belgrade City Hall on 17th June. The Embassy of India organised a quiz and article writing contest on yoga and its benefits. I am happy that IDY 2017 in Serbia generated huge interest, enthusiasm and positive responses from the local participants, and helped to spread awareness about the importance and health benefits of yoga.
Prime Minister Modi recommended yoga as one way of fighting climate change, as it offered people a sense of “harmony with self, society and nature” and could create a “social consciousness”
Speaking within UNESCO on one occasion, India Prime Minister Modi suggested that changing the way of life and thinking about the world around us could save the planet from climate change. What role does yoga have in developing this knowing?
– Climate change is not an individual problem, and it doesn’t have solely individual solutions. Collectively, our answer to climate change is oneness and in many respects yoga is a community of collective action. The practise of yoga can guide us towards right action and a lifestyle guided by compassionate concern for the happiness of others. Prime Minister Modi recommended yoga as one way of fighting climate change, as it offered people a sense of “harmony with self, society and nature” and could create a “social consciousness”. He says people will have to change their lifestyles and develop harmony with nature if the world is to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.
From the perspective of today’s India, as the world’s second most populous country and a global economic powerhouse, how do the challenges facing the world look: economic inequality, the crisis in the EU, tension in relations between Russia and the West, tensions in the Arab world, global terrorism, and the migrant crisis etc.
– Global inequality is driven by changes both of inequality within countries and inequality between countries. Reversing the corrosive trend of extreme economic inequality is a challenge and the international community has made significant strides towards raising people out of poverty. To reduce inequality, policies should universally pay attention to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalised populations. Terrorism and extremism are major security challenges on the path of the prosperity of our society. We want strong and united action against all forms of terrorism.
The EU and its member states are actively collaborating with India in our flagship initiatives. Win-Win partnerships have been forged that provide a world of commercial opportunities for European businesses, while at the same time contributing to India’s socio-economic development by bringing in much-needed best practices, investment, skills, technologies and human resources.
India and Russia are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. We have deep, multifaceted relations in diverse fields – political, defence, energy, trade, economy, finance, investment, culture, education, think-tanks, science and technology, sports, youth, tourism, people-to-people etc. India has time-tested friendly relations with the countries of the Gulf region and the Arab World. With over eight million Indian expatriates living and working in these countries, we have vital stakes in regional peace and stability.
Historical relations between India and Serbia are marked by mutual trust, international understanding and support to each other on issues of core interest. India and Serbia support each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
New Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić mentioned the importance of renewing cooperation with India in his speech before the National Assembly. How did you interpret that message?
– Historical relations between India and Serbia are marked by mutual trust, international understanding and support to each other on issues of core interest. India and Serbia support each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Honourable Aleksandar Vučić paid a historic visit to India in January 2017 and held warm and productive discussions with PM Modi. The discussions reflected a joint desire to enter new areas of cooperation to our mutual benefit. The necessary agreements/MoUs have been signed and Working Groups have met. We seek the active participation of Serbian industry in various Indian projects, including Make in India, Digital India, Smart Cities, agriculture, defence etc. Likewise, Indian companies are looking at growing opportunities in Serbia, in infrastructure, agriculture, tourism, healthcare, film etc. There is a robust exchange of business visits with Ambanis, TATAs & GMR visiting Serbia, and enhanced Serbian participation in major trade events in India. Serbian companies regularly visit India, particularly in the ICT & defence sectors.
Indian cultural troupes continue to attract large audiences. Recently, the Kriyative Theatre Group participated in the INFANT Festival and the BELEF Festival. An Indian folklore ensemble from Punjab participated in the FIDAF “Belgrade Award”.
Our regular participation in the International Tourism Fair, International Agricultural Fair, International Book Fair, Ethnic Food & Drinks Fair and Auteur Film Festival all helps to showcase India’s potential. Growing Serbian interest in India is evident by the institution of Hindi Chair at the University of Novi Sad and India studies at Belgrade University, the celebration of three successive International Day of Yoga etc. Our efforts at tourism promotion have resulted in year on growth of 26 per cent in the numbers of Serbs visiting India. India’s e-Visa facility is gaining popularity. Indian films have commenced shooting in Serbia. I am confident that summit-level discussions in India and our joint concrete efforts will yield fruitful results and enhance bilateral collaboration in all sectors.
What kind of effects resulted from the visit of Serbian officials to India and their participation in the “Global Forum Vibrant Gujarat”?
– Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić discussed a wide range of issues with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and agreed on the need to promote economic cooperation, including in the fields of food production, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, the defence industry, health, tourism and IT. Addressing the plenary session of the “Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit”, PM Vučić invited Indian investors to Serbia. In his meeting with Vijay Rupani, Chief Minister of Gujarat, PM Vučić stressed the importance of economic cooperation between Serbia and Gujarat, especially in agriculture, the food industry, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and IT. Chief Minister Rupani has suggested the establishment of a mechanism to move the agreed agenda forward. The Serbian Prime Minister also discussed enhanced trade and investment between Serbia and the state of Maharashtra with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of Maharashtra, in the fields of agriculture, seed processing, technologies for food processing, IT, tourism etc. Prime Minister Vučić also met Pankaj Patel, President of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), to discuss the possibilities of expanding bilateral cooperation, especially in the field of tourism and the film industry. PM Vučić and Mr Anand Mahindra, President of the Mahindra Group, discussed the possibilities of producing electric scooters, increasing production of tractors and automobiles, agri-machinery, agro processing and the development of Serbia’s IT sector. The export of raspberries and other food products from Serbia to India were also discussed.
PM Vučić interacted with Indian CEOs and discussed enhancing economic engagements, with a focus on exploring business opportunities in manufacturing, IT, MSMEs and hospitality & tourism. Following PM Vučić’s talks with CEOs in Mumbai, Serbian businesses showed an interest in the Indian market. The e-Visa facility to Serbia is gaining popularity; the Air Services Agreement has been revised; Indian film shooting have begun. We are also seeing the appearance in Serbia of Indian companies based in UAE. The visit has created some energy among Indian businesses, which view Serbia as a business-friendly destination: including healthcare, infrastructure and defence.
To sum up, the talks in India were meaningful, important and useful, and I am confident bilateral business contacts will intensify in the period ahead and yield tangible results.
India emphasised the import of wheat, soybean and oilseeds, and also expressed interest in procuring copper and gold from Serbia
Economic cooperation between India and Serbia is based on many bilateral agreements, such as those governing cooperation on agriculture, science, mutual investment promotions, avoidance of double taxation etc. Do you consider that these agreements have found application in practise and yielded tangible results?
– I am happy that very constructive ideas have emerged from Joint Working Groups on Agriculture, S&T and IT& Electronics. During the first meeting of the India-Serbia Joint Committee on Agriculture (Nov 2016), the Indian side expressed interest in the import of pulses, soybean and oilseeds. Serbia emphasised the export of fresh, frozen and processed fruits and vegetables to India, and the import of agriculture machinery, such as trucks, tractors and combined harvesters. India reiterated interest in exporting tropical fruits, such as mango, pineapple, banana, papaya etc. India was offered ‘Partner Country’ status at a future Agriculture Fair in Serbia.
Discussions held under India-Serbia Agreement on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (Dec 2016) have identified five sectors for cooperation: (i) New materials and Nanotechnology; (ii) Energy and Energy efficiency; (iii) Information and Communication Technologies; (iv) Health and; (v) Biotechnology for food security.
Concrete projects under the MoU on IT & Electronics will boost digitisation efforts both in India and Serbia, and will add teeth to Prime Minister Brnabić’s plans.
The India-Serbia Business Forum (ISBF) has identified duty differential for Indian imports and complex registration procedures for Indian pharmaceutical products as some of the hurdles. We are trying to enhance business opportunities. A systematic outreach of Indian businesses to the various sectors in Serbia is another priority for expanding economic ties. All these initiatives would provide significant new impetus to our vibrant economic cooperation.
What, for example, is the India-Serbia Economic Committee currently dealing with?
– During the 3rd meeting of the India-Serbia JEC the two sides discussed the prospects of enhancing bilateral economic & trade relations. Both sides examined and discussed the status of bilateral economic cooperation, including trade and investment, agriculture & food processing, energy, mining, scientific and technical cooperation, Information Technology & Electronics, civil aviation, health, pharmaceuticals, tourism, filmmaking, youth affairs & sports and cooperation between private sectors. India emphasised the import of wheat, soybean and oilseeds, and also expressed interest in procuring copper and gold from Serbia. The two sides highlighted the possibility of entering into an agreement between Medicines and Medical Devices Agency of Serbia (ALIMS) and India’s Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO), for cooperation on issues medicine quality.
How would you rate the effects of the ITEC programme, through which Indian development experiences are transferred to businesspeople in Serbia.
– The ITEC Programme was extended to Serbia in 2008 and so far more than 140 scholars from Serbia have undertaken training within this programme on a wide and diverse range of skills and disciplines, including in IT, ICT, Expenditure Management, Entrepreneurship, WTO, Banking & Finance, Renewable Energy, Climate Change, Legislative Drafting, English, Yoga etc. ITEC Training doesn’t just empower scholars with professional skills, but also helps prepare them for an increasingly globalised world. I am glad that Serbian institutions have shown great interest and enthusiasm towards ITEC training courses and the feedback received from the trainees is encouraging. I am confident we will have more and more participation from Serbia in the years ahead, particularly since digitisation, economic growth and economic reforms have been announced as the priorities of the new cabinet led by the Hon’ble Prime Minister Ana Branabić.
Serbia has got a new government that is headed by a woman. Given that you had opportunity to meet Ana Brnabić during her time as a minister who was also in charge of the IT sector, where there has been much talk about the possibilities of cooperation with India, what do you expect from her as Prime Minister?
– I had a very productive meeting with the new Prime Minister of Serbia, Hon’ble Ms Ana Brnabić. I look forward to working closely with her government to add substance to the “new partnership” with India. Bilateral relations are expected to grow deeper and closer, especially after the successful visit of H.E. Aleksandar Vučić to India in January 2017.