Our special correspondent Olga Petrashevskaya has more details on the visit of the Belarusian parliamentary delegation to India. Let’s watch this story.
If we imagine that the world economy is a road, then it can be said that India a giant racing car moving at an enormous speed. It is difficult to overtake it when it comes to the rate of growth. However, if you join its pace and try to stay close, you may succeed.
Belarus and India have been cooperating for many decades. During the Soviet era, Belarus exported Minsk tractors MTZ to that South Asian country. But times have changed and with them changed the speeds. Our countries today do not just trade. Investment projects and joint ventures promise sums with nine zeros!
Belarusian parliamentarians headed by chairman of the upper chamber Mikhail Myasnikovich visited Delhi on the hottest month, in early May. And already on the first day of the visit, the delegation took off their shoes, not because of heat but as a sign of respect for tradition at the entrance to the memorial complex Raj Ghat. It is one of the most important such complexes for the people of India, as this is the burial place of the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi.
Then followed a meeting with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee. The leader of the South Asian country recalled his visit to Belarus and the meeting with Alexander Lukashenko in June 2015.
This year, Belarus voiced an initiative to set up a free trade zone between India and the Eurasian Economic Union to improve and fill relations between our countries with specific content. For Indian businesses it is a unique opportunity for tax-free sales in the Eurasian space.
Nair Sreekumar, director of a department of the Confederation of Indian Industry:
Typically, Indian companies come to big markets. And, at first glance, Belarus should not be that interesting since your market is not vast but the fact that you are part of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) changes things. The EEU is more than one country. I personally know businessmen who want to open offices in Minsk to work on the entire market of the EEU.
The businessman Priyanshu Jha is already working in a Minsk office. And even wears a badge in the form of the flag of Belarus.
Priyanshu Jha, businessman (India):
Belarus is a market of the future for the whole world, and not just because of the economy. At the forefront is the fact that your country is very safe, there is no racism, and highly developed infrastructure is in place. Our contacts in Belarus have the support of the government - it is essential for business.
The fact that the bilateral relations have bilateral support was evident during the visit of the Belarusian delegation, in particularly when Mikhail Myasnikovich was greeted at the session of the Indian Parliament.
Inter-parliamentary cooperation is another track along which the Belarusian-Indian relations are moving. The bilateral relations were discussed with the chairman of the upper house, Mohammad Hamid Ansari. Discussion at this level is not just a need of protocol: in India, it is the parliament that has the last word in political decision-making.
Mikhail Myasnikovich announced Belarus' position: cooperation between our countries should be multifaceted and justify the already-established high level of trust between Belarus and India.
Anik Kohli, representative of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce in India:
In my opinion, political contacts between parliamentarians, leaders of both countries, the economic result and businessmen's decisions to cooperate and invest are interconnected. Because when visits take place at such a high level, businesses see that they have some sort of guarantee that it's not just talk but the real prospects that they see on the summit.
But these very prospects were clearly seen not only from above. The best proof of it was the fact that there were so many participants of the Belarusian-Indian business forum that not everyone got a chair.
About 30 Belarusian and 70 Indian companies took part. Belarusian businessmen literally brought several suitcases of documents. Inside this impressive stack are contracts and agreements that are ready to be signed at the business forum. But this stack can and even must be doubled, said Mikhail Myasnikovich.
By 2018, Belarus and India should reach a turnover of $1 billion.
Today the amount is only $400 million. The prospect is real, but both sides need to strive for this figure.
Mikhail Myasnikovich, Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus:
We have every reason to ‘reboot’ our relationship. We would like India to re-discover Belarus. To do this, Belarus is creating comfortable environment. For example, we exempt the import of equipment and major capital goods from customs duties and value added tax. And we would like it to be done in India too. There are no unsolvable questions. There is a political will of the heads of state, and now the business community needs to implement these political agreements by close and committed collaboration. We want to agree as partners, not as each separate side willing to extract unilateral benefits.
One of the projects between Minsk and New Dehli is the launch of trolleybus lines in India. It will first be done in Indore and Bhopal. At present, India does not have electric public transport but there is every opportunity and even need to launch it.
Belarus suggests not just trolleybuses but the whole system under a turnkey contract. It will design and build a contact network and traction substations. If Belarus can be the first to implement such a project, there is a high probability that other Indian cities will also express desire to use Belarusian services.
Orsha Linen Mill also has a real partner. A contract worth $1 million was signed with one of the largest textile producers in the world. The director of the Belarusian linen mill was not able to restrain emotions during the signing.
Natural fabrics for India is a necessity stemming from climate. Synthetics do not suit when it's 40+ outside.
Besides Orsha Linen Mill, other Belarusian companies (MAZ, MTZ, BelAZ, Mogilevkhimvolokno) signed 13 cooperation deals during the business forum.
Of course, the sides raised the problems too. Minsk and Delhi still don't have a direct air link. This is because there is not enough passenger traffic to organize regular flights. However, the possibility to organize a direct flight route will be worked out by both sides.
The second issue is the opening of visas for Indian businessmen. Mikhail Myasnikovich assured the business communities of India that Belarus will foster business contacts by relaxing specific visa requirements.
Mikhail Myatlikov, Chairman of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce:
If a businessman wants to cooperate, it is the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce that will be the inviting party. This is for those businessmen who do not have contacts in Belarus. Thus, we will remove this problem.
Indian students don't have visa problems when applying for education in Belarus. Moreover, now there will be even opportunities for them. The BSUIR signed a cooperation program with the National Institutes of Technology. It is assumed that the Belarusian alma mater will receive its first students from the South Asian country already in 2017. By the way, India - one of the leaders in providing IT services in the world - still has something to learn from Belarus: our exports of IT services per capita are higher than in India and even than in the USA.
Raja Ram, manager of a company organizing studies abroad (India):
The level of education in your country is certainly very high, professors and teachers are competent and speak English well. But that's not all. Let us not forget that students are in fact children and parents send them to a foreign country. It is very important for them to understand whether that country is safe, to know attitude towards foreigners and be sure that food is of high quality, in the end. And Belarus does provide all these ‘bonuses’ in one complex.
Among other Belarusian-Indian projects that are already in progress is the joint construction of four medicine factories in Belarus. One of them is in Biešankovičy.
As one of the leading economies in the world India has set itself ambitious goals and Belarus can help in their implementation. For example, coal mining: India needs to increase an output of up to 300 million tons by 2020. Small dump trucks will not help, so the opening of a BelAZ service center in Nagpur has come in handy.
Samar Shakil, director of a joint venture for the sale and servicing of dump trucks (India):
For us, for the mining equipment sector of India, the opening of the BelAZ service center is the greatest event. I think that without clear and strong political support from the Belarusian Government we would not be able to achieve these results. We signed a contract for 12 trucks (with a carrying capacity of 240 tons), which will be delivered in 2016.
Belarus and India today are at a new stage of bilateral relations, which does not boil down to mere trade. Now it already includes almost everything from investments to joint facilities, from the exchange of knowledge to exclusive projects. This is like a flower garland, which from season to season gets new buds. One just needs to timely water the beds and not forget to remove the crops.