India, EU trade togetherness still scarce

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Updated: Jan 7 2006, 05:30am hrs
The coming year will witness a burst of activityeconomic, political, scientific, educationaldrawing India and the 25-nation European Union (EU) much closer. The preparations that have been going on for the past 15 months will bear fruit this year, as New Delhi and Brussels begin to implement the Joint Action Plan that Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Tony Blair endorsed last September.

Take trade. There is no reason why Indian exporters should not improve on their remarkable export performance of the last two years. Their exports to the EU rose by nearly 18% during the first nine months of 2005, compared with a rise of 16% during 2004.

What is more, Indias textile and clothing exports rose by 16% during the first half of 2005. It was the only developing country, in fact, whose exports increased, despite Chinas very substantial inroads into the EU market, following the elimination of quotas on January 1, 2005.

Trade remains the motor driving economic relations between India and the EU. But the Joint Action Plan makes clear that India-EU economic relations also cover agriculture, industrial policy, transport, customs and business cooperationnot to mention finance and monetary affairs, energy, information and communication technologies, biotechnology....The list goes on! It would make boring reading, if it were only a wish-list put together by high-minded European and Indian officials. But work on giving substance to wishes began well before the EU decided in 2004 to include India among the half dozen countries with whom it is developing a strategic partnership.

There have been regular business summits, involving Indian and European economic operators, since the first India-EU political summit in 2001. The India-EU Round Table, which brings together civil society representatives, also dates back to 2001.

There have been notable developments in scientific cooperation also. The India-EU science and technology cooperation agreement has been in force since 2002, but cooperation in joint research projects had already been going on for some 15 years, if on a small scale. Efforts are underway since last April to co-sponsor joint activities and research in such high-tech areas as genomics and biotechnology for health; nanotechnology and functional materials, and high energy physics.

And yet, and yet....progress in drawing India and the EU closer together, while accelerating, remains slow, despite the massive opportunities for effective, first-rate collaboration between India and the EU across virtually the entire field of human endeavour. The necessary institutional machinery, ranging from annual meetings at the level of prime ministers to working groups of all kinds, exists.

What is missing is peoples participation. This is all the more surprising, given that both Indians and Europeans are highly articulate, educated, well-informed and share a common working language in English. But information about the growing collaboration between India and the EU is scarce; when made available, it is seldom free of bureaucratic jargon.

The Action Plan devotes an entire section to increasing mutual visibility, through more intensive media coverage, for example. But this is putting the cart before the horse. The media report news. And the way to make reporting of India-EU events possible is to give peoplebusiness people, scientists, educationists, consumers, housewives, and the public in general a key role in developing and promoting the wide range of activities set out in the Joint Action Plan.

The EU-India Round Table was set up in 2001 to allow Indian and European civil society to influence decision-making at the highest political level, through its recommendations to the Indian and EU prime ministers at their annual meeting. The Round Table created a forum on the internet, in order to encourage contribution by as wide a range of civil society organisations as possible. Neither the Round Table nor its forum has registered with the public at large, and yet both offer a quick and effective way of securing peoples participation in implementing the Joint Action Plan.

What is also lacking is a strong political commitment, by New Delhi in particular, to strengthening relations with the EU at every level. The European Commission, the EUs executive arm in Brussels, is setting up an Action Plan support facility, backed by hard cash, to secure implementation of specific activities under the Action Plan. Indeed, a team of experts should be reaching New Delhi in next week as the Commissions advance guard.

In view of the wide range of activities being undertaken under the Action Plan, New Delhis representatives in Brussels, its diplomatic mission to the EU, must include specialists drawn from civil society-a scientist or two; an academic; experts in the environment, including climate change, and energy, information technology, transport...A start could be made by involving members of the Indian diaspora in Europe.