Trade and Security will be on top of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda as he sets out to attend the 13th Indo-EU Summit being held in Brussels, Belgium’s capital city. The previous Summit was held in 2012 in New Delhi.
The meeting assumes significance for both India and the EU, as it comes at a time when there is an overall slowdown in the global economy and EU coming under increasing pressure, due to refugee migration from Syria and terror attacks by Islamic radicals.
During the Summit, PM Modi will be having extensive discussions with Donald Tusk, former president of EU and former PM of Poland, along with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission and former PM of Luxembourg, in addition to meeting other EU leaders.
He will also be holding discussions with Charles Michel, Prime Minister of Belgium. Belgium is a major trading partner of India, with the Indian diaspora contributing significantly to the thriving diamond processing and trading business in Antwerp.
Hard selling the India opportunity
India is on a fast growth track and has embarked on initiating a widespread infrastructure upgradation program. For this, India needs technology and massive investment, which EU nations can provide.
For EU, India offers the best possible option for long-term capital investment and represents a significant business opportunity that can help EU nations ride out this difficult phase of global slowdown.
PM Modi has set into motion several unique development initiatives like Make in India, Digital India, 100 Smart Cities project, Skill India and Start-up India, all offering sizeable opportunities to EU to step-up investment and technology transfer that will also boost the EU economy as a whole.
Railways in India has already initiated a major modernization and expansion programme and EU is well positioned to offer technology in core and downstream projects. Investment in Railways is going to have a multiplier effect on the Indian economy and will see other infrastructure initiatives gaining momentum.
The same is true for Defence, where India is on its way to establishing a military-industrial manufacturing ecosystem that will see India emerge as a major manufacturer and exporter of defence equipment. EU nations individually and collectively possess several cutting edge technologies that is of interest to India and it will be interesting to see how PM Modi takes this forward in his talks with various leaders at the Summit.
India is going in for a massive replacement, upgradation and modernization of its Air Force and this is a major area interest to EU Nations. France is already in advance talks with India for offering its Raphael Fighter jets and is also bidding for the large Submarine project, for which it is now scouting for partners in India.
A consortium of European companies – Alenia Aermacchi, Airbus and BAE Systems, has already offered to fully transfer technology for manufacturing the ‘Eurofighter Typhoon’ in India. Eurofighter, had lost the race to Raphael, manufactured by French company Dassault.
Swedish company Saab is another major arms manufacturer and has stepped in with its offer to manufacture its line of ‘Grippen’ fighters in India. Airbus and BAE Systems, along with several companies like DCNS, Thales, Thyssen Krupp are amongst European companies looking for a significant slice of the Defence industry in India. The Summit will provide an additional opportunity to push their case.
The trip is also likely to give boost to the pending bilateral Free Trade Area Agreement that has been under discussion for some time. EU has been pushing hard for India to further liberalize several sectors including the sensitive farm and dairy sector, in order to expedite the FTA.
It will be fair to expect PM Modi to be at his best in showcasing the India opportunity to EU leaders at the Summit, since the current trade between India and EU stands around $125 billion and is likely to see a significant increase in coming years, as a result of this visit.
Security – a common agenda
Security concerns emanating from rising terror attacks is common to both India and the EU, and both sides will have a lot to discuss and share on stepping up the bilateral security cooperation.
Brussels has just come under its most severe terror attack and this will certainly increase focus on addressing common security concerns. The recent attacks have further complicated an easy resolution to the existing Syrian refugee crisis being faced by all EU nations. EU, which was earlier more forthcoming in accepting refugees, will now most certainly see a tightening of its open policy thus far.
India, which has strategic and economic stakes in the Middle East, would be keen to explore common agenda with the EU in dealing with the crisis in the Middle East and in protecting our interests in the region.
Modi to continue his connect with Indian diaspora
There are around 20,000 Indians residing in Belgium and almost half of them will be enthusiastically welcoming PM Modi at a function in Brussels on the evening of 30 March that will mark the conclusion of a hectic, and hopefully, fruitful visit.
PM to attend the 4th Nuclear Security Summit
The PM will then proceed to Washington on 31 March to attend the 4th Nuclear Security Summit, where India will present its report on Nuclear Security. It is expected that Modi will meet PM Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines, which will also present both yet another opportunity to take the dialogue process forward.
On the return leg, PM Modi will reach Saudi Arabia for a two-day tour starting 2nd April. Saudi Arabia is India’s largest crude oil supplier and bilateral trade between the two countries exceeds $39 billion.
With ISIS expanding its footprint across the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is fast emerging as a critical player in the complex situation prevailing in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is keen to build closer relations with India in a bid to counter Iran’s increasing presence, now that sanctions on Iran are in the process of being lifted.
PM Modi will be looking towards a more proactive role in the Middle East to safeguard India’s interests in the region and therefore this visit to Saudi Arabia assumes significance.