Portuguese President Mr. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa paid a successful State visit to India. The highlight of this trip was the signing of 14 MoUs and agreements covering a wide spectrum of mutually beneficial issues. These involved maritime transport and port development, Start-ups, aerospace, diplomatic training, scientific research and public-policy.
The visit is a reflection of a new dynamism in India-Portugal ties with the relationship being completely redefined and transformed in the last three years. Arguably, both India and Portugal appear to be betting on each other’s ongoing rapid transformation to unlock the full potential of their bilateral ties.
Today, there exists a range of global and bilateral issues where India’s and Portugal’s interests converge. The world remains in flux marked by unpredictable and volatile fault-lines. Shifting great power rivalries, undercurrents of geo-economic and geo-strategic competition, depressed economic growth, and growing traditional and non-traditional security threats have muddied the global strategic landscape. Globalisation, a key anchor of the 21st century, has acquired a pejorative connotation. Nationalism has gained traction with a growing tendency among nation states to look inwards. And technology is often misused even as we enter the age of the fourth industrial revolution. The fissures in Trans-Atlantic relationship has led to questions being raised on America’s commitment to Europe. These developments call for new partnerships and alignments
India’s growing relevance on the global stage and Portugal’s membership of the European Union and NATO put them in a position to combine their strengths to tackle these global upheavals. This rationale of mutually beneficial collaboration is further strengthened on account of the common threats posed by black swan events like that of the coronavirus.
In this context, India and Portugal share a deep appreciation of each other’s core security concerns. The Portuguese Parliament had unequivocally condemned the Pulwama terrorist attack in 2019 while dreaded gangster Abu Salem was extradited from Lisbon in 2005. Portugal has also supported India’s membership of all major multilateral institutions apart from being the key architect of the first EU-India Summit that laid the groundwork for India’s robust engagement with the EU. Today, given the indivisibility of security, India and Portugal’s geographical location straddling the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean respectively-which Vasco da Gama traversed 500 years ago-highlights their shared maritime security interests.
Similarly, Portugal’s robust national innovation ecosystem and a knowledge based economy is of particular relevance to India. Lisbon has made giant strides in the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, block-chain and e-governance. Its digital prowess blends in with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development motto of modernising the Indian economy through integration of cutting edge technology and maximising India’s intellectual potential. Portuguese companies, thus, are in a position to play a key role in India’s transformative projects such as Make in India, Clean India, Digital India, and Start-up India to name a few. Notably, India offers a viable laboratory to Portuguese companies to scale up operations. Similarly, the agreement on migration and mobility highlights the complementarities of India’s demographic dividend and Portugal’s need for skilled manpower. These positive sentiments are reflected in bilateral trade crossing 1 billion Euros with Portuguese investments in India doubling over the last two years.
Presently, Portugal’s cost-competitive and business friendly climate has propelled it as a leading contender to replace Britain, post-Brexit, as Indian companies’ gateway to the common market of Europe. Interestingly, Portugal can also be the springboard for Indian companies to set up base in the ‘Lusophone’ (Portuguese speaking) countries spread across the world of which Lisbon is the traditional leader. The potential of joint Indo-Portuguese collaboration in these Lusophone countries too remains immense.
Leveraging the large Indian diaspora along with Portuguese populations’ natural attraction for wellness and spirituality, new vistas of bilateral cooperation that hold tremendous potential involve Yoga and Ayurveda apart from soccer, tourism, renewable energy, waste management, oceanography, defence and agriculture.
President Sousa’s visit, therefore, is a new chapter in the upward trajectory of Indo-Portuguese bilateral cooperation.
Script: Rajorshi Roy, Research Analyst, IDSA