By Aroonim Bhuyan,
New Delhi : When Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes on a two-day visit to Sweden next week, cooperation in the area of innovation will form a key element of his agenda, Sweden’s ambassador to India Klas Molin has said.
Speaking to IANS here, Molin said that the summit between Modi and his Swedish counterpart Stefan Lofven on April 17 will see discussions on cooperation in bilateral, regional and global issues.
“Of the global ones, of course, multilateral cooperation. You have environment and climate, trans-boundary issues of common concern where we have been gratified and heartened by India’s leadership in taking on important responsibility, assuming responsibility for some of these global issues in a very positive way,” he said.
“I think you will also hopefully see the leaders discussing and agreeing perhaps on continuing the work that was started two years ago in Mumbai where we had a joint statement outlining a plethora of issues and areas in which to cooperate.”
Lofven had visited Mumbai in 2016 to participate in the “Make in India Week”. Modi’s visit will be the first prime ministerial visit from India to Sweden in 30 years since that of Rajiv Gandhi in 1988.
Stating that innovation is a broad but specific area of cooperation between the two countries, Molin said that this was an important part of the India-Sweden joint statement that was released during Lofven’s visit.
“How do we cooperate further, how do we get our best and the brightest people together, how do we also perhaps think about funding certain areas, how do we go into areas where we can cooperate even more and develop new technologies, create employment and sustainable solutions on a number of issues,” he said.
During Modi’s visit, an India-Sweden Innovation Partnership is also expected to be launched.
“I think it is something we are discussing with the Indian side but exactly how this will look, of course, will have to be finalised,” the ambassador said.
“But I think it is a way of focusing our attention on both sides to create a platform that, in turn, can attract investments, that can attract companies to plug in.”
Stating that Sweden has signed such innovation partnerships with France and Germany, Molin said that “we will be certainly very happy to sign this with India”.
“It will be an umbrella under which there will be a number of areas of particular interest,” he said.
Molin also said that Lofven himself is “personally extremely engaged in innovation” and chairs the Swedish Innovation Council that was set up by the government.
On bilateral economic relations, the ambassador said that trade is growing on both sides “and quite impressively so”.
Though bilateral trade dipped to $1.9 billion in 2016-17 from $2.17 billion, both countries have set a lofty total trade target of $5 billion.
“I think it will be useful also to set targets that are very lofty goals,” Molin said. “Nothing wrong with that. They are not always met, but I think the ambition is most important.”
He was of the opinion that trade in services between the two countries is growing and this might even overtake trade in goods.
“But in trading goods, we have definitely seen impressive growth in the figures, I think for Swedish exports, more than 25 per cent; and India is also growing, not perhaps dramatically but growing significantly and consistently,” the ambassador said.
“If you include services, I think this is where, of course, one of India’s amazing advantages lie with the talent pool of people. There is IT services, you have back offices, you have all kinds of support services, you have software development.”
Stating that cooperation in academics and research and development is another important area of focus, Molin said that both the countries are looking to increase student exchanges between universities.
On April 17, India and Sweden will also co-host the first ever India-Nordic Summit, where, apart from Modi and Lofven, the Prime Ministers of the other four Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway will also be present.
Molin said that Nordic countries are close as neighbours and cooperate very closely in a number of issues.
“But we are not a political entity in that way,” he said. “It’s not like the EU, it’s not a regional organisation in any way. It’s a convenient forum.”
According to figures provided by the External Affairs Ministry, India’s trade with the Nordic countries totaled around $5.3 billion in 2016-17, with cumulative foreign direct investment in India at $2.5 billion.
“The Nordic countries have globally recognised strengths in clean technologies, environmental solutions, port modernisation, food processing, health, agriculture infrastructure, skill development and innovation which are also the focus areas of India’s development,” a ministry statement said. These complementarities and the unique strengths of India and the Nordic countries hold the potential to further boost trade and investment from both sides.
Apart from his meeting with Lofven, Modi will also hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of the other four Nordic countries on the sidelines of the summit.
(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)