Diplomat Speak

Belarus will support India for UNSC and NSG: Ambassador

Vitaly A. Prima, Ambassador of Belarus to India for close to five years, is very enthusiastic about the future of bilateral relations as the two countries mark 25 years of diplomatic relations. Resident in New Delhi, Prima is also his country’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.

May 11, 2017
Vitaly A. Prima, Ambassador of Belarus to India for close to five years, is very enthusiastic about the future of bilateral relations as the two countries mark 25 years of diplomatic relations. Resident in New Delhi, Prima is also his country’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Excerpts from interview with INDIA REVIEW & ANALYSIS: 
Q. There has been a history of traditionally warm and cordial relations between our two countries dating back to the era of the Soviet Union. After 25 years of independence and diplomatic contacts between India and Belarus, how would you describe bilateral relations today? 
A. No doubt that Belarus-India relations have always been, and, especially today, can be described as a relationship of friendship and comprehensive cooperation based on the principles of peaceful co-existence, trust and mutual benefit, and meet long-term interests of the two countries. As you rightly mentioned – 2017 is a jubilee year for our countries, as on April 17 we celebrated the 25th anniversary of establishment of our diplomatic relations. And we have come to that date with great achievements beneficial both for Belarus and for India.
 Assessing relations with your country, our President Alexander Lukashenko said, “With India we are separated only by geographical distance, but it will never become an obstacle in the development of contacts between our countries and peoples, because our countries and peoples have serious history of mutual relations.”
Q. Regular exchange of high level visits between India and Belarus, ranging from presidents to ministers, have taken place. How have they shaped political understanding and environment?
A. Regular contacts at the high level, of course, contribute to the overall strengthening of relations. During such visits, the parties will agree on positions not only on international issues, but generally set priorities through the bilateral agenda.
It’s certainly, an indicator of the level of bilateral relations. We are pleased that in recent years our dialogue at the high level has changed qualitatively. 
 Firstly, in 2015, we held a historic visit of the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, to Belarus, and now we are working on a reciprocal visit of our President to India, which can be brought to the bilateral jubilee celebrations. 
In the second place, a roadmap of Belarus-India cooperation has been adopted, which covers intentions of the countries on cooperation in the near future across the wide spectrum of issues, ranging from political, parliamentary contacts to all kinds of joint economic and humanitarian projects. 
Thirdly, in 2016, we also had one important visit – India was visited by the Belarusian parliamentary delegation headed by Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus, Mikhail Myasnikovich (like the Chairman of Rajya Sabha). It is gratifying to note that parliamentary diplomacy, the importance of which is constantly increasing in the world, is also active for the benefit of development of friendly relations between Belarus and India.
If going back to the visit of President Mukherjee to Belarus, this made it possible not only to radically revise bilateral relations, but to “shake them up” and positively charge all ministries, agencies and companies for successful implementation of joint initiatives, for discovering new areas of cooperation.
Q. How have India and Belarus, cooperated in international, multilateral and regional forums on their shared interests.
A. Indissoluble common goals, interests and values allow our countries to interact on the international arena in a constructive way. The positions of Belarus and India are close or coincide on major issues of international peace and security, on approaches for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as on decisions of major international summits and other forums. 
We are interested in the continuation of a fruitful dialogue with India on all issues of mutual interest, including fighting against terrorism and extremism, international crime, drug trafficking and human trafficking, climate change and poverty. By the way, India is a member of the UN Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking. It was initiated by Belarus, and India, among other 19 countries, actively took part in the actions. India is a co-author of several Belarusian resolutions against Trafficking in Human Beings.
One can’t mark the support on the “Belarusian issue” India always renders to us within the UN. I would like to express the gratitude on behalf of my Government for this. 
In 2016, Belarus supported India in the Postal Operations Council of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), in the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to the UN International Law Commission (ILC). 
Q. Does Belarus support India candidature for a permanent seat at UNSC and membership of NSG?
A. Yes, we support India in its bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We see how in recent years prestige and influence of India as a regional and global player have been enhanced. We attach utmost importance to the reform of the UN Security Council, but do not see it as the only component of the whole UN reform. Our position is that the composition of the UN Security Council should be expanded. It’s necessary to increase the number of both permanent and non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, what will more accurately reflect the current global realities in which new emerging powers in the international arena, such as India, will be able to more actively influence the situation in the world. Security Council reform is not about enlargement only, but it is also about its working methods and procedures. We support all efforts that seek to make the Council more transparent and accountable in its activities.
Belarus will not block a decision on the membership of India in the NSG at a time when it is a non-NPT country. Taking into account the huge population of India, its ambitious economic programmes, and energy challenges India is facing, we believe that it is necessary to find a solution that satisfies the interests of India in the NSG. There is a need to find non-standard solutions, and we agree to facilitate the search for a solution based on compromise.
Q. How would you describe the current state of bilateral trade between two countries?
A. India is one of the important and promising economic partners of Belarus. It is encouraging that, despite the global crisis, in 2015-2016 the trade turnover between our countries exceeded US $ 400 million, showing an increase of 11.4%. Belarusian exports amounted to almost US $ 300 million.
Belarus’ main export goods to India are traditionally potash and nitrogen fertilizers, acids, polyamides, synthetic yarn, leather.
Due to diversification we were able to ensure the further growth of supplies of engineering products, including pumps, instruments for physical and chemical analysis, computers, lasers, tyres.
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.
There are prospects for increasing supplies of metalworking items (seamless pipes, wire), cord fabrics for tyres, integrated circuits, other petrochemical products to India.
I am confident that there are several new positions which could be supplied to India: equipment for modernization and mechanization of underground coal mines, metalworking machine tools and automatic lines for metallurgical corporations. There are prospects for the supply of wood processing industry products: newsprint, bleached sulfate, plywood, wood chips, veneer, etc. Indian Fashion Companies could use Belarusian fabrics, including linen (flax).
Q. Which prominent Indian companies are doing business in Belarus? Do you think that there is a potential for setting up India Belarus JV for manufacturing and maintenance in different sectors.
A. It goes without saying that the time to move from a simple form of cooperation between the two countries – the ordinary trade – to investment, industrial, R&D cooperation has come. Indian investors pay much attention to pharmaceutical and power sectors. Amongst our main partners are SUN Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., CIPLA, Hetero Drugs, Natco Pharma, SYNMEDIC Laboratories.
Indian prominent company BHEL upgraded Grodno CHP Plant-2 some years ago. The project cost more than USD 50 million. They are going to continue to work on the Belarusian market.
A number of Indian companies are showing interest in the implementation of infrastructure projects in Belarus.
Q. Is Belarus looking forward to Indian investment in Pharma, Automobile, Chemicals and Electronics? Are these items also covered in India’s LOC?
A. We have got good experience in pharmaceutical and power sectors.Currently, the country is implementing three joint projects for production of medicines in Belarus with the assistance of Indian technology and capital. We expect to complete the construction of these facilities in 2017-2018. New projects are being worked out with Indian pharmaceutical companies.
Belarus is also eager to penetrate the Indian market – Belarusian flagship manufacturers BelAZ (high-capacity dump-truck manufacturer), Minsk Tractor Plant, Minsk Automobile Plant (manufacturer of buses and lorries), Gomselmash (combine harvesters manufacturer) – are exploring an opportunity to establish their manufacturing units in India.
Moreover, the state-owned Belarusian E&P company “Belorusneft”, which has a variety of patented technologies in oil and gas sector, has joined hands with Oil India Limited to enhance oil production in India.
To summarize, I can say that business is a two-way road. And I am happy to note that Belarusian and Indian companies are moving towards each other, thus promoting bilateral relations and making their contribution to the welfare and prosperity of our friendly peoples.
Q. Has there been any cooperation in the field of defence and science & technology between the two countries?
A. Belarus and India have strong relationship in defence sector. The Joint Commission on Defence holds its sessions on a regular basis. The last one, the 8th, we had in May 2016 here in Delhi. 
Traditionally, we offer our services to Indian Army in the field of modernization and up-gradation of the existing weapons and military equipment. We provide modern solutions for technology transfer and joint manufacture.
Positive results of our close interaction are the contracts signed between our companies and the long-term mutually beneficial projects. 
Belarus and India have created all necessary conditions for the successful development of scientific and technological cooperation: starting from the intergovernmental agreements to the practical mechanisms of their implementation. The major mechanism is the Joint Indo-Belarusian Committee on Cooperation in Science and Technology. Last year India hosted the 7th session of this Committee in Hyderabad. 
The Committee, apart from monitoring overall bilateral cooperation in science, technology and innovation also conducts the Joint Research Call where projects can be submitted by pairs of Indian and Belarusian scientists for joint implementation under mutual government funding.
Within the Joint Research Call, nine research projects are being jointly implemented in 2015-2017 in bioinformatics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, nano-medicine, photonics, ecology, environmental management and renewable energy. 
In 2016 we selected the next batch of projects for 2017-2018.
To give an additional boost to our scientific cooperation and to provide more opportunities for collaborative work in November we held the Days of Belarus Science in India. 
Belarus has also featured a scientific section at the India International Trade Fair (November 14-17, 2016), we conducted a roundtable on Belarus-India scientific collaboration, a seminar on cybersecurity.
Many Indians were able to visit the National Exposition of Belarus at the Indian International Trade Fair to have the first-hand experience of what Belarus offers.
Q. Enjoying old cultural ties with India, how are these exchanges and people- to people contacts taking place between India and Belarus?
A. Belarus and India have been in touch for a long time, even before formal diplomatic ties were established. Throughout these years people-to-people contacts have been the backbone of our friendship.
There is tremendous interest in both countries towards each other’s cultures. Bollywood movies have had and still have tremendous success among Belarusian audiences, more and more people in Belarus engage in yoga practices as part of healthy lifestyle and Indian traditional foods, clothing products and medicines are always in demand. I think these are the interest points that bring Belarus closer to India. 
Educational and business opportunities have contributed greatly to the friendship between our two countries. Over the last years we are witnessing increased interest among the Indian students to study in Belarus. 
In 2015 there were 150 Indian students in Belarus, in 2016 – 233 students. At the same time there are annually about 30 Belarusian students and professionals who study in various universities in India under Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Program (ITEC). 
Both governments encourage cultural exchanges. In 2015 during the visit of President Mukherjee to Belarus, the ‘Days of Indian Culture’ were arranged. This year is highlighted by the Days of Belarus Culture in India, which will include performances of Belarus National Dance Group. 
Q.  Bollywood films, songs, Indian dances and even yoga has been quite popular in Belarus, have they been instrumental in increasing the flow of tourists from India.
A. Belarus and India have very high potential in the tourist sphere. Belarus can offer to India, and to the whole world, unique and unforgettable tourist places.
Foreign tourists are amazed by Belarusian nature, by its vast landscapes, green forests, hundreds of lakes and rivers. This pristine splendor is naturally combined with a unique architecture of the 16-17th centuries. 
First of all, these are well-known castles of the Renaissance, in which stayed the great Medici and Sforza, numerous theaters and museums, natural reserves and thematic parks.
Belarus has highly developed health care and medicine, and we have a lot of health resorts, recovery centers and SPAs that could satisfy every taste.
It is necessary to tell you about authentic Belarusian cuisine, tasty and healthy, and environmentally clear. By the way, we promote agro tourism what is very popular nowadays, these holiday sites were created in compliance with high standards of “agriturismo” of Italian Tuscany.
Belarus will display absolute hospitality, friendliness and openness to guests. Hallmarks of the country are comfort of stay, cosiness and purity. Belarus is one of the safest countries in the world where the high level of religious tolerance – all religious faiths are presented. There are no crimes by gender principle, there are no extremism and terrorism.
Belarus has an excellent geographical arrangement – it is the best centre for making trips to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine. 

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