Script: Dr. SANGHAMITRA SARMA, Strategic Analyst on European Affairs
Foreign Office Consultations are a regular feature of India-Austria relations. The 6th Foreign Office Consultations between the two countries took place recently in the virtual format. The Indian side was represented by Mr. Dammu Ravi, Additional Secretary (Europe and COVID19) and the Austrian side was led by Gregor Koessler, Director General for Political Affairs in the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs.
Bilateral relations between India and Austria are founded on common interests and strategic concerns. From time to time, the two sides have reaffirmed historically close and long-standing relations. Diplomatic relations between India and Austria were established in 1949. Traditionally India-Austria relations have been warm and friendly. There has been a regular exchange of high-level visits between the two countries. Austria is a member of the European Union since 1995 is an important link for India in its relationship with Europe, especially with countries of central and Eastern Europe. The Indo-Austrian Joint Economic Commission (JEC) established in 1983 is quite active. There have been more than 200 collaborations, including 100 technical collaboration and 60 joint ventures between Indian and Austrian firms especially in the fields of steel, manufacturing technology, railway and transport, equipment and metallurgy.
India’s bilateral trade with Austria is continuing a positive trend and has grown at much more speed than Austria’s overall foreign trade in both imports and exports. Indian Exports include Apparels, Textile, Footwear, Rubber articles, Vehicles & Railways parts, Electrical machinery and Mechanical appliances. Key Import from Austria includes Machinery, Mechanical appliances, Railway parts, Iron and Steel etc.
While recalling the ideological commonalities, the two sides emphasised the shared values of democracy, rule of law, international peace, security and shared prosperity and development for all nations. The major focus area of the consultations was the aspect of bilateral relations, ranging from political, economic and commercial ties as well as cultural and academic linkages. Apart from this, both sides exchanged views on the COVID19 pandemic and post-pandemic recovery including vaccines. The Consultations also provided an opportunity to discuss regional and global issues including developments in the Indo-Pacific, neighbourhood policy, terrorism and India-EU Relations. The talks also covered issues in multilateral fora such as reforms in the United Nations and India’s priorities during its term in the United Nations Security Council.
The consultations offer an opportunity to express satisfaction on the level of political exchanges and to further intensify them in the near future. A multi-faceted discussion at the bilateral level is also a source of strength during the pandemic time when discourse between countries has become essential, if not inevitable to diversify supply-chains and ensuring convergence on matters of regional and global significance. India has also been designated as a crucial and inevitable actor in the Indo-Pacific theatre, which has become a hotspot for discussion between countries and regions, and European countries also recognise this fact.
Along with France and Germany, Austria shares a common vision for the Indo-Pacific and hence augmenting their strength in the regional order will contribute to building an equitable and open trade and investment system. Today, India’s significance as an emerging actor of regional and global relevance also facilitates the necessity for the establishment of a strategic partnership to realise sectoral convergences. India’s partners in the European subcontinent have increasingly acknowledged this geopolitical reality and Austria is in no denial of this detail either.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, India has been steadily building its relations with its European counterparts who offer support in areas of mutual interests. Over the years, India and Austria have broadened political dialogues on crucial areas and have highlighted shared interests in promoting global security, stability, and economic prosperity through discussions on trade, investment, and connectivity. To realise the full potential of the bilateral relationship, the two sides must strive to overcome the hiccups and set the course for a stable and thriving economic and political partnership. India should take advantage of Austria’s open and free markets, capital availability and technological edge. A commitment to a growth programme that envisages mutual benefits will take the relationship to a notch higher than the current status.