Indian FM sees potential for boosting economic cooperation

Bled – Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the first Indian foreign minister to visit Slovenia, indicated in an interview with the STA on the sidelines of the Bled Strategic Forum that Indian companies might be interested in cooperating with Slovenia’s automotive and pharmaceutical industries, and the IT sector.

Trade between India and Slovenia stands at US$ 340 million a year, which Jaishankar said he and his Slovenian counterpart Anže Logar had agreed should be improved.

“There are areas where Slovenia is very strong – automotive industry, pharmaceutical industry and even IT. These are all areas where India is a major manufacturer, investor, exporter,” the Indian minister told the STA.

In this context, Jaishankar said he and Logar had agreed there could be more business delegations from Slovenia to India that would target big companies in India in these sectors. He promised support from the government side in making connections.

“We also discussed how on the infrastructure side, the port of Koper could be better utilised.” Jaishankar also pointed to the history of exchanges in the past, in cyber security, and artificial intelligence, adding these areas should receive more attention.

This is the first visit of an Indian foreign minister in 30 years although deputy foreign ministers have paid several visits. “Next year will be the 30th anniversary of our bilateral diplomatic relations,” the minister said.

In terms of political coordination, Slovenia has been very supportive, he said. India has resumed its negotiations with the EU on the free trade agreement and Slovenia was one of the countries which was very supportive, the minister said, expressing gratitude.

He stressed the importance of the strategic partnership with the EU, pointing to the EU-India summit in May.”Our political relations are now very close.”

Jaishankar said his message at the Bled Strategic Forum was that India and the EU had common values, and shared the outlook on many international issues.

Commenting on the situation in Afghanistan, he said the focus of many countries, including India, was on evacuation of its nationals, of “those Afghans with whom we are close” until things settle down.

“There are minorities who have a historical, cultural connection with India. There are some mixed marriages between Indians and Afghans. We have a lot of Afghan students in India, a lot of people who trained in India, a lot of us have friends there.”

Since there is formally still no government in Afghanistan, everything is still very unclear. “We are to wait and see. We do not want to rush a judgement.”

In the last 20 years, India has carried out more than 500 projects in Afghanistan, including several major projects such as a big dam in Herat and the parliament building in Kabul. India has brought electricity to Kabul, built the biggest hospital in Kabul and carried out several social sector projects.

Asked about the Covid-19 situation, the minister said the situation in the country had improved significantly. “Obviously we went through a very tough time. But we have responded. We also got a lot of international support, which we appreciate.”

Today, the key response is vaccination. “We have a very strong vaccination programme. Right now we vaccinating between eight and twelve, thirteen million people a day.”

So far, 500 million people have had one shot and 150-160 million have received two shots. But the speed of vaccination is increasing and two or three new vaccinations will come into production in September and October.

Asked about problems in Europe and elsewhere concerning anti-vaccination sentiment, the minister said he saw it as a “matter of communication, education and socialisation”.

“I think that this will be a challenge that political leaderships all over the world will have to address.”

The other part is to make sure that vaccines are available. “Before the second wave hit us we had exported vaccines to 90 countries,” he said, adding that India was thus also trying to help other countries, at least to their critical infrastructure.

When the situation in the country improves, India will again turn to this. “It’s not only solidarity, it’s common sense.” If a part of the world is left unvaccinated, this will affect everyone, he warned.