An Open Letter To The PM

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Updated: Jun 5 2004, 05:30am hrs
My dear Prime Minister,

May I take the liberty of raising an issue which we discussed in the past I am referring to Indias relations with the 25-nation European Union (EU). I remember vividly the arrival here of Indias first ambassador, the late Dr KB Lall, to what was then the six-nation European Economic Community (EEC).

That was over 40 years ago! It was a defining moment, however, because India was not only among the very first developing countries to grant diplomatic recognition to the EEC but also the first to influence its trade policy positively. Ambassador Lall arrived here when the first negotiations for Britains entry into the EEC were in full swing. He suggested that the enlarged EEC enter into a trade agreement with India. The suggestion did not fall on deaf ears. Britain was not to enter the EEC until some 10 years later, in 1973, however, when his suggestion was revived by the commerce ministry.

The outcome India conclu-ded the first commercial cooperation agreement entered into by the nine-nation EEC, which set the pattern for subsequent agreements by the EEC with other developing countries. Indeed, by the time the 1970s were over, India had already agreed informally with the Eur-opean Commission, the EECs executive arm, the broad outlines of what has come to be known as the second-generati-on of commercial and econom-ic cooperation agreements.

My reason for referring to the early events in Indias relations with what is now the European Union (EU) is a simple one. New Delhi established diplomatic relations with the EEC in order to safeguard its du-ty-free access to the UK market under the system of Common-wealth preferences. Forty years on it is still fixated on securing better access to the UK/EU market for its gray cloth!

India meanwhile has emerged as a world leader in nuclear and space technology. Its IT professionals have earned the country a global reputation; its scientists and business leaders are launching India into the biotechnological age. Indi-an scientists and technicians are helping leading American companies conduct high-tech research in Bangalore and other Indian cities.

Very little of this is reflected in Indias relations with the EU. Indeed, New Delhi scored a stunning victory over the EU in the WTO last year, when it demonstrated that the EU had unfairly granted Pakistan trade preferences which gave that countrys textile exporters a substantial advantage over Indian exporters!

I was at a conference on EU-Asia relations earlier this week, organised by a Brussels-based think-tank (not mine, unfortunately). The message delivered by the official who heads the European Commissions team on relations with China was a very simple one. In his words, China dazzles! His colleague who handles relations with India had a difficult time showing that India shines.

While India has been bickering with the EU over the problems its exporters face on the EU market, Chinese exporters have been sweeping the board.

China is now the second largest exporter to the EU, with 8.2 per cent of its imports from non-EU countries in 2002. (It was sixth in 1990, with 2.6 per cent of EU imports.) India was 19th, with 1.3 per cent in 2002. It did somewhat better than in 1990, when it was 21st, with a 1.1 per cent share of EU imports.

The most striking difference between India and China in their relations with the 25-nation EU is one of perception. Negative perceptions of India remain an important obstacle to closer relations with the EU in virtually every field. And this despite the fact that India is recognised as the worlds largest democracy, while such issues as failure to respect human rights and to curb illegal immigration are high on the agenda of EU-China relations.

But where China scores sharply over India is in the importance Beijing attaches to the EU: witness the visit of Premier Wen Jiabao to Brussels a month ago, accompanied by his Foreign and Commerce ministers.

May I offer the following suggestions, Prime Minister They are aimed at no more than strengthening your diplomatic mission to the EU, which is your advance guard in your relations with the EU!

Yes, continue to talk to the EU on trade matters, but shift the focus to trade in services. Have your high-tech people show the Europeans that they need to work closely with Indians in order to achieve their own goal of transforming the EU into the most competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world by the end of this decade. I believe this is to be a more positive approach to the free movement of Indian high-tech professionals than simply focusing on European visa requirements.

Please post a senior Indian scientist to your diplomatic mission. Given that the EUs sixth framework programme on science and technology has much to offer Indian scientists and research establishments, he will find the appointment a challenging one. He must be backed up by a steady flow of Indian scientists to Brussels, however.

Post someone in your mission here with the sole responsibility of promoting closer relations between the Indian and European Parliaments. The European Parliaments image of a talking shop is changing, thanks to the steady increase in its legislative and financial powers. The EU should be a key ally in Indias efforts to strengthen the forces that make for multilateralism in a multipolar world.

Finally, may I suggest PM that when you go to the Hague in mid-October for the India-EU summit, try to spend 24 hours in this city. It lies at the heart of the European Union, thus offering you an opportunity to reach out to 25 countries at one go!

Respectfully yours,

Malcolm Subhan