Script by Shankar Kumar, Senior Journalist
The ongoing warmth in the relationship between New Delhi and Lisbon received a boost when Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently held telephonic talks with his Portuguese counterpart António Luís Santos da Costa. This was the second telephonic conversation between the two leaders since May 5, 2020.
In the diplomatic world, such talks carry high weight as they reflect the importance that the two countries attach to each other on all bilateral fronts. Today, the two countries are exploring possibilities in the areas of defense and security, trade and migration, and mobility. The two countries’ collaboration in the field of science and technology is making new headway.
Last year, both countries held a three-day technology summit from December 7 to 9 in a virtual format and identified several opportunities for working together in the science and technology field.
The two countries are undertaking joint research in the field of marine research, nanotechnology, and other cutting-edge scientific fields under the new India-Portugal four million Euro joint research fund. During the state visit of Portugal President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa last year from February 13 to 16, the two countries added a new dynamism in their bilateral engagement when they signed 14 agreements which included collaboration in aerospace, a joint production of drones, and others.
In the field of trade and investment, India and Portugal have shown their eagerness to avail the opportunity to expand their footprint in their respective countries. The two-way trade stood at the US $876 million in 2018-19. The investments by companies from the two countries are improving, still, they are modest. Despite this, what should not be forgotten that after Brexit, India has lost its traditional pathway to Europe.
It is in need of another important partner country in Europe to take advantage of the common market in the region. Portugal could be one of the contenders to provide India with the much-needed excess to trade and investments in Europe.
In this backdrop, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s expected visit to Porto in Portugal this year in May to participate in the first-ever India-European Leaders’ Meeting under the Portuguese presidency, assumes high significance. This will be the first meeting of Prime Minister Modi with the European leaders in Portugal. As such Lisbon will be of immense help for India in making it undertake deeper inroads into the European market, which is the second-largest export destination for India after the US.
On political fronts, relations between the two countries received a major boost after Antonio Costa’s assumption of Prime Ministerial chair in Portugal in November 2015. Prime Minister Costa is the first Indian-origin head of Government in the Western world. He holds an Overseas Citizenship of India card and takes pride publicly in his Indian roots.
He was the Chief Guest at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Bengaluru during his visit to India on January 7-12, 2017. Reciprocating the Portuguese Prime Minister’s visit, PM Modi made the first-ever standalone bilateral trip to Portugal on June 24, 2017.
The successful Prime Ministerial visit by Modi infused robustness into the two countries’ overall ties. Almost three years after PM Modi’s visit, the ongoing engagement between the two countries received a significant thrust when Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa accompanied by three Ministers, Parliamentarians, and businesspeople visited India from February 13-16, 2020.
Such high-level visits strengthened mutual understanding between the two countries with two actively supporting each other for various candidatures at the United Nations and other multilateral forums, including for UNSC non-permanent seats.
In the past few years, Portugal has consistently supported Indian candidatures in various fora: Judge Dalveer Bhandari’s re-election in the International Court of Justice against the UK, a fellow EU country; India’s bid for UNESCO’s Executive Board membership; designation of Ahmedabad as a UNESCO heritage city; India’s candidature to the Council of the International Telecommunication Union in October 2018.
Truly speaking, Portugal is India’s trusted friend. Despite being geographically separated from each other by thousands of miles, they are brother-in-arms, sharing common democratic values, ethnic and cultural linkages.