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Ambassador’s Interview published in Jornal de Negócios on May 9, 2014

Posted on: May 09, 2014 | Back | Print

Ambassador's Interview published in Jornal de Negócios on May 9, 2014

“My priority will be the economic aspects of our relationship with Portugal”, DR. JITENDRA NATH MISRA. 

India and Portugal have been closer. And have been further. However, their historic connections are so vast that all the knots and all the bows are possible to untie. And to create, as after a monsoon, a new life cycle. Since January this year, Jitendra Nath Misra is the Ambassador of India to Portugal. And he’s not in Lisbon so that all remains the same. Over decades, he has become a master in the art of diplomacy. But to Portugal he brings a mission. To accomplish an economic, cultural and political connection that has been mostly established on the basis of intents. That is why his action, visible, is transforming the relations between both countries, opening windows so that, even at night, Portugal and India can become closer and may both gain from that. Taking the opportunity to getting to know each other better. His words are calm but spot-on. They open horizons.

What can India bring to Portugal in economic, political and cultural terms?
We have excellent political and diplomatic relations. Friendly, devoid of problems.. After being here for three months, I believe that we should develop the economic relationship. That is very important. Because, since there are no problems, we need to have a stronger economic relationship. Existing numbers are very modest. According to the Government of India figures, in the year 2012-2013, ending on March 31, 2013, the trade volume was less than 1 billion dollars. This is small. The Portuguese direct investments in India between 2000 and 2013 was only 27 million dollars. And I have no figures on the Indian investments here. That is why my mission is to work with our partners in Portugal in order to develop the existing economic potential. How will we do it? We have to work with Aicep and AIP, with the Portugal-India Chamber of Commerce, with the Lisbon Chamber of Commerce and with companies from both countries. And that is what we will be doing. Later in the year, we will be having a major business seminar. We are also approaching Portuguese companies conducting business in India and intending to develop them. And we are encouraging them to take the next steps. And also the Indian companies in Portugal. The Portuguese companies which I have approached are Martifer and the Visabeira group. These are two major good companies. Martifer is doing a very good job in India, on solar energy, and clean energy is of vital importance to India, due to environmental issues. Because if we have to grow at 10% - which is our aspiration and we are an energy importer, since we only produce only a small part of the energy we need, and import 79 per cent of our crude oil, solar and wind energy, where Portugal leads, are very important for us. And Portugal can help us in that field. We also have Brisa working in New Delhi. And on the Indian side we have Tata, Wipro and Zomato, which is just starting here. We want to develop this aspect of our relationship.

And how is it possible to do that?
We need to get everyone together. We require a good database and need to develop a plan of what we aim to accomplish. And then develop these ideas, step by step. In India, I have spoken with the Confederation of Indian Industry and with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. They have agreements with Aicep and with AIP, but not a great deal is happening. We have cooperation agreements at the investment level. We have a joint commission, led by the Ministries of Commerce, but only three meetings were held. We have not held the 4th meeting since 2006. Therefore, we need to accomplish all this. My priority will be the economic aspects of our relationship. Because we need to move forward. Entering the Indian market might be a little risky for small and medium sized Portuguese companies, because they will be facing the unknown, but major companies have already shown good reflexes. We need more business promotion. Both countries have to do more.

Could India be a very important strategic partner for Portugal? 
That question should be addressed to the Portuguese Government. With great respect, it is up to them to decide the type of relationship they want to develop with India. But I can speak of the type of relationship we want to develop with Portugal. A very strong relationship that is business-like and predictable, established step by step. We have excellent cooperation in multilateral terms. At the United Nations, we have worked closely with each other, when both countries were non-permanent members of the Security Council at the same time. We thank Portugal for its consistent support for India's aspiration for permanent membership of the Security Council of the UN. We are proud that India introduced the proposal to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, at the Phnom Penh meeting in June, 2013, for the University of Coimbra to become a World Heritage Site. And it succeeded. I believe these types of actions are important. Primarily, we need to focus on the economic aspect and then move to other areas.

Is the cultural aspect important?
In this particular aspect, we need to bring people together. In June we will be having folk dancers from the state of Rajasthan in Portugal, sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. We will have performances in Lisbon, Beja, Setúbal, évora, and either in Faro or in another city. This type of cooperation is important since, at a popular level, there is not much awareness of India in Portugal, and I believe that in India there is also no great knowledge of Portugal at the cultural level. Both sides need to work hard to fill the gap. The Portuguese Yoga Confederation has also been doing a great job in spreading Indian culture. And its students are all Portuguese. With the economic and cultural areas we can create “momentum”. And afterwards we can start a political dialogue. We had such a meeting in 2005, here in Lisbon, at the Foreign Office level. We need to have another round. Then we will move forward with political visits, ministerial ones. That is the plan. And finally, there will be Head of Government or State visits. We must proceed step by step. Meanwhile, we have signed an agreement between the National Archives. We signed an agreement on Social Security. This will be of benefit to both the countries and it will stimulate trade. We need to renew the Cultural Exchange Programme which has not been done since 2010. We need to sign a new one. We would like to have cinema, public lectures, cooperation with universities and "think tanks". We have started with the “soft” areas, mainly the cultural ones, but the political and the strategic areas will follow. We will seek a political dialogue and perhaps a security one also. But first we have to do the other things.

Is it easy to invest in India?
Yes, India is a large economy. It is easy to invest in India because we have liberalised the investment scheme. Our legislation on foreign investment is one of the most liberal in the world. In the majority of the sectors we allow 100% foreign investment. This year our growth was just below 5%, but in the 10 years before the economic slowdown we had an average growth of above 7%, which is quite good. And in the next five years we hope to grow above 7%. But we are not happy with that: we need to grow at 10%, so that we can fight poverty. We have a very skilled work force and we are young. That is why productivity will remain high in the medium and longer term. That also explains why companies such as Martifer or Visabeira are going to India. But we will be making a more detailed presentation on this topic at the seminar we are preparing. Clean energy can be one of the areas where Portugal might help us. You are also leaders in plastic moulds, which is very important for the automotive industry. And our car industry is very strong, with many partnerships with major producers worldwide. It is a sector where Portuguese companies can be very competitive in India. Your expertise in water management may also be very useful. And olive oil. With increased education in India the middle class is growing. And your olive oil is of excellent quality. People are starting to use it in cooking. And the wines, obviously. Therefore, we invite the Portuguese to go to India.

There is a strong community of Indian origin in Portugal. Can they be a bridge between both countries?
Absolutely. This community is vibrant. According to Portuguese government figures of 2012, there are about 5 thousand Indian citizens and there are others of Indian origin who came from Goa in two waves, before and after 1961. And there was a wave that came from Mozambique and Angola and another that came directly from India in recent years. Presently, there are said to be approximately 65,000 to 70,000 people of Indian origin. The important thing is that Portugal is experiencing difficult economic times. And in these tough times these people have not abandoned Portugal. They contribute to the economy with their knowledge and their skills and also with their money. They have showed solidarity towards Portugal in both good and bad times. They can be a very important bridge. We do not see them as only Indians. They are Portuguese. But we are very proud that they are of Indian origin. They are well integrated into Portuguese society and I have to compliment your inclusive political system, as it gives opportunities to people of other origins. Casa de Goa has played an important role in all this and it will continue to do so with its work. There’s the case of a well-known Bollywood actress, Ileana D' Cruz, who just acquired Portuguese nationality. This is important, as we want to shoot Bollywood movies here.

Recently we have been noticing a growing approach between India and Brazil. Is there a more global connection between India and the Portuguese-speaking countries?
Yes, of course. We have the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and, as an organisation, it is very important to our south-south cooperation. We had five meetings between 2009 and 2013. The fourth meeting took place in New Delhi in 2012. And that leads to major cooperation with Brazil. We are also discussing the creation of a New Development Bank, with funding from the BRICS countries. We are developing cooperation in several areas, namely agriculture, trade, investment, science and technology, and health. On the other hand, Brazil is a very important trade partner of India. And we believe there is potential to promote cooperation between India, Portugal and the Lusophone world. We are trying to build a relationship between India, Portugal and Mozambique. For instance, Visabeira is very strong in Mozambique for the past 25 years. They have long experience there. I asked them: why not carry out a tourism project that would also include an Indian group, to establish a “joint venture” in Mozambique? If we could do something like this it would be a first step.

What are the challenges currently lying ahead for India, with the elections that are now being held?
The elections are for the Lower House of Parliament, which has 543 seats. The winning party, on its own or in coalition, needs to ensure 272 seats, in order to form a government. We have 814 million voters, but we don’t know how many will be voting. Voting is carried out during six weeks and the process will end on May 12. Results are expected to be announced on May 16.

Portugal could be a small town, in terms of Indian voters... 
Well, Portugal is quite a big country. For us it is not a small country. There are smaller countries in the world. From the way I see it, it is a medium-size country. But if we compare Portugal with India, clearly there are differences. India is the second most populous country in the world. Back to the matter in hand, the elections, we have electronic voting. We have an electoral system that is recognized by all as free and fair. No problems there. We are proud of this and we are also proud that our political transitions are peaceful and democratic. And each and every Indian can express their points of view.

What are the challenges that India faces in a global world, with the well-known, enduring tension with China and Pakistan? 
The most important requirement is to have a peaceful and stable external environment. What we would like to ensure is a stable and peaceful relationship with our neighbouring countries and with the regions where we have strong economic, political and diplomatic interests, so that India can be transformed. And that means economic development. A peaceful environment may allow us to grow. And increase the quality of life of the Indian people. This is a strategic necessity for the coming decades. And it is the essential requirement for the development of our country. Because we are a developing country. Hence, a peaceful environment may allow for India’s growth and development. We want a reduction of regional tensions, wherever they exist, on our borders or further. And we would like to have an international order that is more open and democratic. And more open and representative international institutions.

Are you thinking about organisations such as the UN? 
Yes, we are thinking of the Security Council of the United Nations, as we believe that our credentials are very strong for its permanent membership and that it needs to be more representative of the realities of the world. And we think that we should be there, as we represent one sixth of the world’s population. It is our aspiration. We also need to see reforms at the World Bank and at the IMF, so that they may be more representative of the world’s economic realities. These institutions should reflect the changes that have taken place in the world economy.

Do you think the powers that have established the World Bank and the UN during and after the Second World War are open to that?
Change is necessary, but the question should be addressed to them. We feel we are ready.

You have a long career as Ambassador. In the course of all these years, how do you perceive the rapid changes that have occurred globally?
I believe the connections have become stronger due to technology. It is easy to get in touch with anyone in the world via the internet. Sometimes I think we are overloaded with information. The world is becoming increasingly integrated and I have witnessed major changes. India also changed a lot since 1947. And after 1991 we have implemented economic reforms. Globalisation has brought integration at several levels, namely political, security, economic and cultural. I always perceived India as a major “soft-power” in terms of its knowledge, culture, civilisation, arts, dance and cinema. That has worldwide acceptance. But the world has changed and there are several new issues: cyber security, environment and the peaceful uses of outer space. These are complex matters, therefore global cooperation is required. Environmental issues will be a significant worldwide challenge. Will we be able to maintain the current levels of energy consumption? I think it isn't sustainable.

You have arrived in Portugal 3 months ago. You have been developing an enormous effort. You have a clear mission. Will your goals prevail?
It is not about the individual. I am the ambassador. But I cannot succeed without my team. It is a blessing, a great team. I have to set the tone and they immediately respond. I also have to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Portugal. I must point out that I had the honour of presenting my credentials on my third day of work. I was posted on January 13 and presented my credentials to the President of the Republic on January 15. I believe I had a good start. It is important to understand that an ambassador can only succeed by working cordially and effectively with the host government. And I have been extremely well received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also by businessmen, by the Secretary of State for Culture, by other ministries. After all, the Ambassador of India can only be as effective as the country he is representing. None of this is about individuals.