Ambassador: Porto summit could be ‘watershed moment’ for EU-India relations

India's Ambassador to the EU, Santosh Jha. []

The Porto summit this weekend could be a “watershed moment” for EU-India relations to push for stronger health cooperation in the context of the pandemic, enhanced cooperation on trade and investment, and a partnership on connectivity, the country’s envoy to Brussels, Santosh Jha, told EURACTIV in an interview ahead of the EU-India leaders meeting on Saturday (8 May).

Santosh Jha is the ambassador of India to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU. He provided written answers to questions by EURACTIV’s Alexandra Brzozowski and Georgi Gotev ahead of of the EU-India Leaders meeting on Saturday (8 May).

India will celebrate 75 years of its independence in 2022. What is the vision for the future of India? What role does India want to play in the world?

The Indian model of democratic governance together with its growing economic strength and dynamism provides the basis for India’s role on the global stage. India is guided by its ancient wisdom of “vasudhaiva kutumbkum” that the world is one family.

The transformation of India into one of the world’s leading economies, a responsible power with demonstrated scientific and technological competence, and stable democracy is a truly phenomenal achievement of our time.

Our approach to the world is driven by our desire to leverage the rest of the world for our domestic development even as our growing capabilities continue to contribute to global stability, security and prosperity. We seek a balanced relationship with all countries especially with all major powers and support an international system based on an effective and equitable multilateral global order reflecting contemporary realities.

It is important to understand that India’s achievements are not India’s alone. We believe in sharing capabilities with the rest of the world and this has reflected in our growing contributions globally, especially in the context of south-south cooperation.

Further, the ongoing project for India’s economic resurgence is a monumental one both in terms of scale or complexity or in terms of the impact it can have on overall human welfare. For example, a significant eradication of poverty in India means considerably less poor at the global level. The same parameters extend to many other sectors – whether it is gender equality, universal literacy, health security or social empowerment.

With the upcoming Porto summit and an increased interest in an expansion of ties between Brussels and Delhi, what is new on the India-EU agenda?

India values its multifaceted strategic partnership with the EU. EU is India’s leading trade and investment partner and the second-largest export partner after the USA. It is also a major source of technology and best practices.

India-EU partnership is a partnership between two of the world’s largest democracies and economies, encompassing a wide range of issues. We share a common perspective on many regional and global issues, including a shared commitment to promoting an international rules-based order based on reformed and effective multilateralism.

In short, I would say, the EU is India’s natural and preferred partner in its developmental endeavours and at the global stage.

The India-EU virtual summit in July 2020 has given a big impetus to the relations. It has resulted in a roadmap for the relationship till the year 2025, which underlines the multidimensional nature of our strategic partnership. It has also initiated the launch of High-Level Dialogue on Trade and Investment, Maritime Security Dialogue, closer security and defence consultations and enhanced naval cooperation.

We already have over 30 dialogue mechanisms covering almost all aspects of human endeavour.

What are your expectations for the summit?

Since July Summit, clearly, the level of intensity in our political and economic engagements is greater than ever before. We are now preparing for the first-ever India-EU Leaders Summit at Porto on 8 May, which would be a pivotal moment in our relations.

We are looking at a number of new initiatives which can further advance our dialogue and cooperation. This includes a partnership on connectivity which can bring both economic and strategic benefits to the two sides. Stronger health cooperation in the context of the pandemic is another area. Enhanced cooperation on trade and investment to give a fillip to our recovery efforts could be yet another. We are also working to strengthen our cooperation in the digital domain, including business linkages, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

Stronger human mobility partnership in this context could emerge as one with tremendous potential enabling a meeting point for India’s talent with EU’s technology, which could be uniquely beneficial to both.

The potential is huge and Porto Summit could be a watershed moment that could propel our relationship forward in all its aspects.

Portugal, a country with historic links with India, holds the EU rotating presidency. Is this an opportunity to deepen relations, especially after the UK, another country with very strong links with India, has left the EU?

India and Portugal have close linkages forged by 500 years of maritime history and kinship. We have a strong bilateral partnership with Portugal, which is modern and forward-looking and marked by regular high-level exchanges and visits.

We are indeed pleased that the Portuguese Presidency of the EU has prioritized the EU’s relations with India. It is at their initiative that the first-ever India-EU Leaders Summit is taking place in Porto on 8 May. It is important to also recall that it was under the Portuguese Presidency in 2000 that the practice of regular summit meetings between India and the EU was initiated.

As I have indicated earlier, the Porto Summit promises to be a pivotal moment, which may transform the India-EU strategic partnership. On the Indian side, we see this as a unique opportunity, where both sides seem better aligned and committed to raising the level of their relations across all sectors.

How worried are you about the current interactions between the EU and China? And what are your thoughts on the comments by Portugal suggesting that improved EU-India relations, both seeking to end dependence on China, could serve as a vehicle to rebalance the bloc’s arduous ties with Beijing?

We do not wish to see India-EU relations from the prism of relations with other countries. India-EU relations stand on sound foundations of shared values and principles. It would not be appropriate for me to interpret them in relation to others.

Relations between India and the EU are not only a bilateral priority but also a necessity for global good. It is a strategic partnership between the two largest democracies, which in itself is a message. Our shared commitment to the values of democracy, basic freedoms, rule of law etc., create a definite comfort level in our interactions, as against our interactions with partners, who follow different values or adhere to a different system.

Beyond purely economic pursuits, India and the EU also have a shared interest in working together for a strong, effective and reformed multilateralism. I can say that India welcomes a stronger EU as a distinct pole in the emerging multipolar world order, including its desire to play a greater role in the Indo-Pacific region. The adoption of a new EU strategy on Indo-Pacific has also been appreciated by India and creates a basis for further cooperation between us in this context. As a like-minded and democratic partner, a more strategic and geopolitically active EU is in India’s interest.

India is known as “the pharmacy of the developing world” and is a leader in terms of Covid-19 vaccine production and a key supplier under the COVAX program. What could be the synergies with the EU?

As you are aware, India is undergoing a second wave, much bigger than the first one. We have suffered from the pandemic as much as any other country or region in the world and we believe that our response should be based on global cooperation and solidarity.

India ensured the supply of essential medicines such as hydroxychloroquine & paracetamol and masks, PPEs and diagnostic kits during the initial phase of the pandemic across the world.

In fact, we supplied 150 nations with medicines, including many in Europe. Delivery of these medicines cemented our reputation as the ‘Pharmacy of the World’ and as a responsible stakeholder in global health supply chains.

Our initiative of “vaccine maitri” (vaccine friendship) supplied made in India COVID vaccines to 95 countries with around 70 million doses. The global community, too, has similarly come to India’s assistance as we witness our second wave. We have received assistance from many countries, including from most of the EU member states.

India is a key partner under the COVAX initiative as well. While the EU is among the donors, India is contributing to it as one of the world’s largest producer of vaccines. A large proportion of our supplies, as mentioned earlier, are under the COVAX facility. We must understand that the EU, India or any other nation in the world is not safe till everybody is safe. The faster we arrive at global herd immunity the better.

However, our expectation is also to see more cooperation between the EU and Indian entities in the pharma and health care sectors. This may take the form of supply chains, collaborations, manufacturing or R&D. It is also important that IPRs do not restrict the rapid scaling up of manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. India has floated a proposal at the WTO with South Africa and other countries to waive patents under TRIPS agreement for a limited time period to allow scale-up of manufacturing capacity for vaccines to meet global demand.

Once the Movement of Non-Aligned countries was powerful, and India was a leading force, what is left of it? 

India is currently holding a non-permanent seat at the UNSC for a two-year term. At the UNSC, India’s approach will be guided by “Five S”, as set out by our Prime Minister which is Samman (Respect), Samvad (Dialogue), Sahyog (Cooperation), Shanti (Peace), & Samriddhi (Prosperity). Reformed multilateralism is a ‘must’ for the post-COVID19 era. A first and vital step is the reform of the Security Council which must reflect contemporary realities to be more effective.

As far as the Non-Aligned Movement is concerned, its biggest strength lies in its diversity – we respect each other’s developmental journeys, distinct traditions and heritage, and have abiding faith in peaceful co-existence.

The Non-Aligned Movement represents a valuable platform for us, as developing countries that speak for two-thirds of humanity, to maintain space for autonomy in our policymaking. It allows us to collectively pursue our contemporary goals and aspirations while being rooted in timeless and universal principles. India will therefore remain unwavering in its support for these principles and ideals even today.

The EU and India have assumed a leading role in fighting climate change. What is your take on this?

We are committed to combatting climate change as much, if not more than any other country. Our Prime Minister has said that “Climate Change is a lived reality for millions around the world. Their lives and livelihoods are already facing its adverse consequences”.

However, our carbon footprint is much smaller – we have amongst the lowest per capita emissions, 60% lower than the global average, and our contribution to historical emissions are as low as 3%. Despite this, we are committed to making our contribution recognising that this is a global problem requiring all to make contributions. Despite our development challenges, we have taken many bold steps on clean energy, energy efficiency, afforestation and bio-diversity.

Sustainability remains the underpinning principle of all our flagship development initiatives. This includes cleaning of rivers and cities, urban rejuvenation projects, green highway corridors, shifting to electric vehicles under the FAME scheme, implementing the world’s largest LED lighting programme, planting of over 2.5 billion trees to increase our tree and forest cover, eradicating the use of single-use plastics by law by 2021, and targeting renewable energy production of 450 GW by 2030. India already is the 4th largest in the world in the production of renewables generating 136 GW or 36% of the electricity from renewable sources.

India has also undertaken ambitious targets under the Paris Climate change agreement. Our Prime Minister has affirmed that we are not only on track to fulfilling them, but that we will exceed everybody’s expectations in 2030. We are also the only G20 country whose current efforts are regarded as 2-degree-Celsius compatible.

We have also encouraged global initiatives like International Solar Alliance, LeadIT, and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. We are happy that the EU is a part of ISA and CDRI.

In the EU, we find a mutual partner for making the shift to renewables. As a responsible developing country, conscious of its climate commitments, India welcomes EU expertise on matters of green financing and clean technology. This can enable us to achieve more than the impressive targets we have set for ourselves.

Our partnership on climate change has the potential to be a game-changer and a “win-win” not just for us, but for the world.

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