Indian, Russian experts pitch for greater economic cooperation

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New Delhi: Even though India has a good bilateral relationship with its time tested partner Russia, but on the economic front, no substantial changes have been seen on the ground, despite both the nations tried their best to put the economic ties back on track.

This was the core area of concerns among the experts from India and Russia, who on Tuesday participated in a video conference, organized by Sputnik, between Moscow and New Delhi, ahead of India’s 73rd Independence Day celebrations.

While participating in the discussion, experts from both sides have echoed that the bilateral relationship between both countries through solid, requires a transformative change in the economic sphere.

Initiate the opening remarks from the Indian side, India’s former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal said India has come to a long distance from where it was when it gained independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

“Our economy has jumped in the last three-and-a-half decades. It is now the fifth-largest economy in the world and will be a $5 trillion economy by 2025. This opens up opportunities economically for both Russia and India. India values its ties with Russia in several spheres, but we need to expand our trade relations,” Ambassador Sibal said.

Russian investments in India in 2017 have reached USD 18bn and India’s total investment in Russia so far is USD 13bn.

“This year, we have a stable government and a strong leader who has a vision for all sectors. This is reflected in programs launched in his first term as Prime Minister like Make in India, Clean-up India, Digital India, and Rural Uplift among others. There are serious challenges, but we have a leader who has given us a national assurance of progress. With Russia’s cooperation, this vision is all the more achievable.

Russia’s former Ambassador to India General (Retired) Vyacheslav Trubnikov said “India today is a confident country that has a consistent understanding of its interests. International integration with this country and its economy can make it one of the strongest powers in the world. Russia obtains international standing by cooperating with India.”

Ambassador Sibal, however, was specific in pointing out that bilateral economic cooperation between both countries is lagging behind at just $11 billion.

“We have to do more on this front; create incentives for the economic sector and work towards making it more Eurasia-centric. A transformative programme has been announced by Prime Minister Modi. We hope it is achieved,”.

The overall investment target of USD 30 billion that was set for 2025 has already been reached. The investment target has been raised from USD 30 billion to USD 50 billion by 2025 during the 19th Annual Bilateral Summit in October 2018.

On whether regional forums like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) had a role to play in broadening ties between India and Eurasia, Ambassador Trubnikov said SCO must be explored as a platform for greater cooperation.

Ambassador Sibal differed; saying that in a China-dominated SCO, only Russia was in a position to question or challenge an initiative that may not be in the interest of other countries in the region.

He also said that Russia and India need to be wary about the security and geopolitical advances being made by China and the United States in the Eurasian and Indo-Pacific region.

He further said one had to only look at the advances being made by the US in Iran and Syria and those made by China across Europe, Sri Lanka and Nepal to understand both were on a geo-political space grab mission.

Professor Kupriyanov said currently there is a lack of trust between India and China.

Brigadier (Retired) Bhonsle said India needed to be very watchful about China’s maritime ambitions in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Alexie Kupriyanov, Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said a favorable environment was the need of the hour to facilitate economic integration bilaterally and regionally. He suggested that India ink a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) similar to the one the EAEU has signed with Vietnam.

Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Gulshan Sachdeva said: “In the Eurasian context, India’s relations with Europe and Asia have improved 50 percent in terms of the partnership. Regional integration is taking place efficiently. Every nation, however, has its own integration plans.”

Dr. Boris Volkhonsky, Professor of the Institute of Asian and African Studies, Moscow State University, said: “India and Russia need to have more dialogue in the spheres of trade, transit, energy; they have to go beyond. The North-South Trade Corridor has not taken off for various reasons. India has not endorsed China’s BRI (Belt Road Initiative). Integration in Eurasia has two dimensions – geopolitical and developmental economics.”

Security and strategic expert Brigadier (Retired) Rahul K Bhonsle said: “India is at an inflection point. It has political stability, strong leadership, but also needs strong followership. The aspirations of Indians have to be met. They want India to aspire to be a leading power of the world.”

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