On the eve of President of Belarus H.E. Alexander Lukashenko’s visit to India, the Diplomatist spoke to H.E. Vitaly Prima, Ambassador of Belarus to India, on the significance of the Presidential visit and its impact on Belarus-India ties.
What is the diplomatic significance of President Lukashenko’s visit to India?
Regular contacts at the highest level, of course, contribute to the overall strengthening of bilateral relations. And we are pleased that in recent years our political dialogue has changed qualitatively. Belarus and India have become considerably closer to each other.
The forthcoming visit of the President of Belarus H.E. Alexander Lukashenko to India is definitely a landmark one. It will strengthen and enhance Belarus-India relations to a new level.
As the potential of Belarus-India relations is immense, leaders of both countries could agree on positions not only on international issues, but set priorities and pursue promising projects through the bilateral agenda.
We see India as a great country with a prosperous future. Belarus intends to improve trade and economic activities with India and consolidate this friendship.
What are the major agreements that will be signed during the President’s visit?
The treaty legal base of the Belarusian-Indian relations has already been formed. Almost all basic agreements on cooperation between our countries that cover trade and economy, investment, science and technology, education, culture, military-technical cooperation, have already been signed. At the same time, they are improved and fine tuned constantly to meet modern realities. During the forthcoming visit, cooperation agreements and memoranda of understanding will be signed in important areas like vocational training of personnel, youth policy, healthcare, oil and gas, small and medium-sized enterprises and agricultural research. We have also prepared an intergovernmental Programme of Cooperation in the Field of Culture for 2018-2020, and a new model of Bilateral Investment Treaty which, we believe, will favour bilateral cooperation with respect to foreign investments and promote mutually beneficial business activity. Surely, the expansion of the legal framework for cooperation between our two states will serve as a positive signal to companies and enterprises to actively find more new opportunities for interaction with each other.
As we celebrate its 25th anniversary, please describe the major milestones in the Belarus-India diplomatic relations.
In April 1992, Belarus and India signed an agreement establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries. And during these 25 years our relationship has always been built on the principles of friendship and respect. Our President has visited India twice, in 1997 and 2007.
The historic visit of then President of India Pranab Mukherjee to Belarus in 2015 led to the adoption of a roadmap for Belarus-India cooperation. This signaled the intention of both countries to boost ties on a wide spectrum of issues, ranging from political, parliamentary contacts to all kinds of joint economic and humanitarian projects. During President Mukherjee’s visit India announced its recognition of Belarus as a market economy; that will encourage bilateral trade contacts benefitting both Belarus and India.
In 2016 the Belarusian parliamentary delegation headed by Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus Mikhail Myasnikovich visited India. This was a visit of immense significance. Now we are working on the reciprocal visit of Speaker of Lok Sabha of the Parliament of India Sumitra Mahajan to Belarus. We consider that parliamentary diplomacy, the importance of which is constantly increasing in the world, is also useful for development of friendly relations between our nations.
What are the international issues where Belarus and India hold common views?
Belarus and India have indissoluble common goals, interests and values which allow our countries to interact constructively in the international arena. The two countries share close or identical views on major issues like international peace and security, approaches for achieving Sustainable Development Goals, as well as decisions of major international summits and forums. Both countries speak for the establishment of a multipolar global order and observance of universally recognised norms of international law, effective solutions to global and regional problems of the present which meet the interests of the entire international community.
We are interested in continuation of a fruitful dialogue with India on many important issues, including the fight against terrorism, international crime, drug trafficking and human trafficking, climate change and poverty. India is a member of the UN Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking. It was initiated by Belarus; India, along with 19 other countries, actively took part in the deliberations. Belarus supported India’s initiative to observe June 21 as International Yoga Day.
Over the past six years, India has voted in the United Nations against the adoption of anti-Belarusian resolutions. I would like to express the gratitude on behalf of the Government for this.
We highly value the level of cooperation between our countries in relation to the elections within international bodies. In a recent example, in June 2017, Belarus and India supported each other’s candidatures for elections to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for 2018-2020. Both countries were elected. India should not worry about Belarus’ decision during elections to the non-permanent members of the UN Security Council for the period 2021-2022.
I hope that such level of interaction will continue in order to promote each other’s priorities.
Belarus-India bilateral trade was $402 million in 2016. What are the prospects for further growth?
India is a key partner for Belarus in the South Asian region, both politically and economically, and this has been repeatedly pointed out at all levels. Undoubtedly, the basis of our cooperation is trade and joint industrial production. I would like to note that there are no problems between the two countries that would impede the harmonious expansion of bilateral trade and economic cooperation. We are gradually increasing the trade turnover, and in the first half of this year we achieved an indicator in mutual trade of $211.1 million, which is ten percent higher than the same indicator in 2016. There were organised deliveries for 47 new commodity items.
However, we are still quite far from using the full opportunities available. The large-scale diversification of Belarusian exports can be achieved primarily through the export of unique technologies and products that are not produced in India or are produced in insufficient quantities. After the visit, we hope, there will be increase in supplies of potash fertilisers, industrial and technological equipment, and petrochemical products to India. Belarus is willing to purchase high-quality pharmaceutical, chemical products and other goods from India.
The Belarus-India Inter-Governmental Commission for Economic, Trade, Industrial, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (the 8th meeting of the Commission was held on July 4, 2017 in New Delhi) and Belarus-India Business Cooperation Council which operates under the aegis of the Belarus Chamber of Commerce and Industry and FICCI are very instrumental in expanding the areas of cooperation and creation of favourable conditions for business and entrepreneurship.
Belarus has been an important source of Potash fertilizers for India. Apart from trade, what is the level of industrial cooperation between the two countries, in joint ventures, technology transfers etc. How is Belarus positioned to tap the ‘Make in India’ opportunity?
India is one of the main and strategically important markets for export of Belarusian potash fertilisers. Belarus is interested in further long-term cooperation in this sphere.
But I should say that we should shift our cooperation from simple trading to joint production and technology transfer. There is significant potential for industrial cooperation between the two countries, especially in the creation of joint machine-building enterprises. Belarusian enterprises are participating under the Make in India programme. Recently, a joint venture, Gomselmash-India, for the production of harvesters was launched in India. Belarus has serious intentions regarding the production of agricultural tractors and quarry equipment, as well as the application of innovative transport technologies for the development of Smart Cities by the Government of India.
We have started cooperating in the oil industry. Belarus offers Indian partners unique and most advanced technologies for oil recovery.
It is understood that Belarus is focused on improving domestic pharmaceutical production to reduce the dependence on imports. Is Belarus keen on tapping India’s expertise in this field terms of joint ventures with Indian pharma companies?
Taking into account India’s rich experience in this field, we welcome the arrival of Indian investors in Belarus’ pharmaceutical sector. We are interested in development and modernisation of our own drug manufacturing sites, creating new modern enterprises using Indian knowledge and investments.
There are three ongoing pharmaceutical investment projects in Belarus and we can boast of a win-win interaction.
The two countries have established a Joint Working Group on Pharmaceuticals; an instrument aimed at giving strong impetus to further scaling up of cooperation between pharmaceutical bodies and companies of Belarus and India.
What are the potential areas where Belarus and India can expand cooperation? Will IT, healthcare, power, logistics join that space? Please extrapolate.
Belarus and India enjoy comprehensive and diverse bilateral relations. There is hardly any sphere where we have never had or are not working on some sort of collaboration or arrangements. We are now looking at areas beyond our traditional engagements that would be relevant to the existing development plans and future needs of both countries like renewable energy, vocational education, cyber security, traditional medicine and many others.
For example in August 2017, we had the 1st session of the Belarus-India Joint Working Group on Renewable Energy; in November 2016 we held an Indo-Belarus Bilateral Workshop on Cyber Security; together with the Ministry of AYUSH we are working on bilateral arrangements in the area of traditional systems of medicine; in cooperation with state governments we are bringing the vast Belarusian experience in vocational training to India under the “Skill India” initiative; with the support of the Department of Science and Technology we are setting up a joint center in Hyderabad for showcasing technologies.
We are always grateful to our Indian partners for being receptive and supportive of Belarusian initiatives as well as putting forward new perspective areas of mutually beneficial joint work.
In the joint statement issued after President Lukashenko’s visit to India in April 2007, there was mention about bilateral defence cooperation. What is the progress on that front?
Bilateral defence cooperation started in 1993 when an intergovernmental agreement was signed and the Joint Belarusian-Indian Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation was formed. Meetings of the Commission are held annually, and the agenda for discussion by the parties is very extensive, from joint R&D and deliveries of products to joint production that fully corresponds to the requirements of the Make in India initiative.
We also consider that regular exchange of delegations and participation of experts from the two countries in the specialised exhibitions, Milex and Defexpo, significantly contribute to maintaining a constant exchange of information and opens up opportunities for finding new directions and areas of interaction.
Technology cooperation between India and Belarus for building innovative nuclear reactors has been under discussion. What is the latest on that area?
Belarus has been a member of the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) under the International Atomic Energy Agency since 2006 and over the years has been working closely with their Indian counterparts on many projects.
The most recent development in the area of nuclear energy is the ongoing construction of the first nuclear power plant in Belarus. This revolutionary endeavour for Belarus against the background of the vast experience of India in the nuclear energy creates a whole new area for our dialogue, exchange of experience and collaboration and we look forward to having those discussions in the near future.