By Doris Leuthard
Switzerland holds India in great esteem; a vast country of diverse cultures with a rich heritage, an emerging economic power and the world’s largest democracy. We can depend on close relations based on the Treaty of Friendship that was signed between our two countries almost 70 years ago. Today, the aim is to further deepen that cooperation and to take a determined approach to addressing global challenges for the benefit of both our countries.
Switzerland’s swift recognition of India’s independence in 1947, the prompt adoption of diplomatic contacts and the conclusion of the Treaty of Friendship in 1948, laid the foundations for the good relations between our two countries that continue to this day. I am therefore delighted that we are launching a programme to mark this anniversary under the heading “70 Years of Swiss-Indian Friendship: Connecting Minds — Inspiring the Future”.
Although in doing so, we are not looking to the past, but to the future. At a time in which nationalism and protectionism are gaining ground in many places, we, instead, want to seize the opportunities offered by openness and cooperation. That includes the free trade and economic agreements currently being negotiated by the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and India.
Therefore, during my state visit to India on August 31and September 1, one of the topics of discussion with President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and members of his cabinet will be free trade. Cooperation in the fields of transport, energy and vocational education and training will also be on the agenda, as will digitalisation and climate change.
In our efforts to deepen cooperation we should not overlook how much we have already achieved. The Treaty of Friendship, which was proposed by Jawaharlal Nehru, the founder of the Indian state, as a sign of his appreciation for Switzerland, and which speaks of “perpetual peace” and “unalterable friendship”, has served as a basis for our political relations. These have been reinforced in recent decades by regular high-level visits.
We have been able to conclude numerous agreements in a wide range of areas, such as trade, investment, development cooperation, education, visas, migration, air transport and cooperation in science and technology. The two sides signed a joint declaration on the mutual automatic exchange of financial account information in November 2016.
Economic exchanges are also intensive. India is one of Switzerland’s most important trading partners in Asia and Switzerland is the 11th largest foreign investor in the country. As of the end of 2015, Swiss direct investment in India had led to the creation of up to 1,00,000 jobs, which is why a sound investment protection framework is important. Tourism is also thriving with many Indian nationals travelling to Switzerland to discover the country — and many Swiss enjoy travelling to India.
There is a great deal of potential in the bilateral relations between our countries that has yet to be tapped, which is why I am being accompanied on my visit by a sizeable group of business people and representatives from business associations. India has initiated numerous reforms in recent years to further improve its framework conditions. Significant investment is also planned in public transport and renewable energies. Switzerland and its businesses can contribute a great deal of know-how in these areas. Thanks to its capacity for innovation, its well-trained skilled labour, excellent infrastructure and political stability, Switzerland is among the most competitive countries in the world.
Given our common experiences, I am convinced that we should act together on climate policy. Unpredictable monsoon rains and the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas will have an impact on the lives of millions of people in India. The glaciers are receding in Switzerland too, which has an influence on water management and energy production. The thawing of the permafrost will make our hillsides more unstable which in turn poses a threat to many villages and valleys. It would, therefore, make sense to further deepen cooperation in the areas of climate change and sustainable development.
As part of its Energy Strategy 2050, Switzerland has decided to take steps to improve energy efficiency and boost the share of renewable energies in the energy mix. India’s energy strategy, which is currently being drawn up, shares the same priorities. In terms of energy efficiency and the increased use of renewable energies, a number of joint projects are already under way between our two countries. One of those is CapaCITIES, where Switzerland is helping municipal authorities in India to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A major rail infrastructure project was completed in Switzerland last year. The opening of the Gotthard base tunnel, which at a length of 57 km is the world’s longest railway tunnel, shows that pioneering achievements are still possible in the 21st century. This link through the Alps has brought northern and southern Europe closer together. People and goods are able to reach their destination quicker.
With globalisation and digitalisation, it seems that the distance between India and Europe is shrinking — and that’s a good thing. The world faces many challenges, which can only be overcome by working together. I hope that my visit can help to strengthen bilateral relations between our two nations. As a vast country of diverse cultures with a rich heritage, an emerging economic power and the world’s largest democracy, India can be sure of Switzerland’s support.
Indian Express, August 29, 2017