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President Ram Nath Kovind was on, nine days tour of Iceland, Switzerland and Slovenia to enhance the bilateral political and economic relations. India and Iceland signed agreements and MoU on fisheries collaboration, cultural cooperation, facilitating visa for officials and the creation of a Hindi Chair at the University of Iceland. Iceland is part of the Nordic group of countries and the Indian President acknowledged that Reykjavik can contribute in the areas of sustainable fishery, marine economy, shipping, green growth, energy, construction and agriculture sectors.
Iceland holds the chair of the Artic Council, an intergovernmental organisation that focuses on sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. Iceland has extended its support for India’s candidature for the UNSC. President Kovind also addressed the students at the University of Iceland on the theme: India-Iceland for a Green Planet and invited Iceland to join the International Solar Alliance. He indicated India’s commitments under the Paris Agreement and pledged to remove single use plastic by 2022. He also addressed the India-Iceland Business Forum and presented the investment opportunity available to the entrepreneurs. The Indian President also attended a reception of the Indian Community and Friends of India which was hosted by Mr T. Armstrong Changsan, the Indian Ambassador to Iceland.
Mr. Kovind visited Switzerland on the second leg. In his address at the University of Berne on India – Switzerland new age partnership, he spoke of connecting the Alps with the Himalayas. Identifying the areas of green growth, blue economy, climate change, artificial intelligence, innovation and smart solutions, he drew attention to Indo-Swiss future engagements which will increasingly be defined by new factors and forces. He indicated that the world looks with admiration on the world’s oldest democracy and world’s largest democracy that are linked together by historical moments. In 1896, Swami Vivekananda visited the country with a message to link the east and west. And in 1931 on the invitation of Noble Laureate Romain Rolland, Gandhiji visited Switzerland. President Kovind unveiled a bust of Mahatma Gandhi in the city of Villeneuve on the occasion of the 150th Birth Anniversary of the Mahatma.
India-Switzerland relations are underpinned by strong economic partnerships. There are over 250 Swiss companies operating in India and the Integral Railway Coach Factory in Chennai set up with Swiss assistance celebrated its diamond jubilee in 2015. Emphasising that science and technology that will shape the bilateral relations, the Indian President said that “Switzerland is a world leader on innovation” and India draws inspiration from the country. He said that “Swiss expertise in circular economy and resource efficient knowhow can help us to build sustainable urban space, to clean our rivers and to process our food”. He addressed the India-Switzerland Business Roundtable. Mr. Kovind drew attention to India’s rise within the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index and the Swiss participation in India’s flagship Make in India, Smart Cities, Digital India, Clean India, Startup India and Skill India programmes. The strength of the bilateral relation is borne out by the 70th anniversary of the India-Switzerland Treaty of Friendship signed in 1948.
On the last leg of the tour, President Kovind visited Slovenia. This was the first Indian Presidential visit ever to that country. Emphasising the rapid economic transformation of the country, President Kovind said that India was “keen to leverage Slovenia’s high-end technology, sustainable business practices and research, knowledge and innovation capacities to support our rapid growth”. India and Slovenia signed seven MoUs and Programmes of Cooperation in the fields of Investment, Sports, Culture, River Rejuvenation (Clean Ganga Mission), Science & Technology and Standards. He addressed the India-Slovenia Business Forum. He drew attention to the fact that India has the third largest Start-up network in the world. Slovenia has extended its’ support for India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Later this month the Slovenian Government will release a postal stamp to commemorate the life of Mahatma Gandhi.
Script: Prof. Ummu Salma Bava,
Chairperson & Jean Monnet Chair,
Centre for European Studies,
Jawaharlal Nehru University