An important ambition of the Swedish Governments New
Asia Strategy is to bring about increased trade and investments in South
Asia, especially in India, an emergent giant in the world economy. This
goal now seems to come closer on this initiative, not the least because
the fact that the Confederation of Indian Industries had sent a high level
delegation of 15 business leaders headed by its president Mr Ashook
Sotta. In addition there were about 90 persons from Swedish and
Indian companies in Sweden and diplomatic and academic observers present.
Business opportunities both ways
At the beginning of the seminar the Ambassador, Ms Chitra
Narayanan gave an overview of the context in which increased cooperation
could take place. Read her speech.
All major Swedish companies like, for example, ABB, Ericsson,
SAAB, Skanska,Volvo, etc. already have a more or less substantial presence
in India, but there is a vast potential for increased business. India
with a stable annual economic growth at 56 per cent (one of the
fastest growing economies in the world today) offers excellent business
opportunities in industry and services. Key sectors, where Sweden has
advanced technology and strong business companies, are for example:
This development is now also propped up by the Swedish Government,
Minister of Trade, Mr Leif Pagrotsky, told
the meeting. Presently there is a programme in Bangalore to further exchange
in business, research, and culture with special emphasis on IT and biotechnology.
The Government is also strengthening institutions (Swedefund and Invest
in Sweden Agency), which will facilitate expansion of trade and
Indian export to Sweden is still dominated by traditional
goods like textiles and leather products. Recently, however, according
to Ms Chitra Narayanan, 15 major Indian IT companies have established
their presence in Sweden. In another important development, the Indian
company Wipro Technologies will take over Ericssons R & D units
Mr Ashok Soota invited Swedish business leaders to be partners
in the organisation of the 2005 Industrial Fair in New Delhi. He also
suggested the introduction of a simplicity corridor that could
overcome all bureaucratic hurdles in order to develop more business opportunities
between Sweden and India.
Mr T K Bhaumik pointed out that the Indian
Government is now committed to reduce tariffs on foreign goods to 10 to
20 per cent with an average at 12 % (as against the current average of
26 per cent).
Mr R Ravimohan, in an Indian Economy Update,
described the stability and high performance of the Indian economy. Besides
a high average growth rate at 56 per cent, the stability consists
in a comfortable foreign exchange reserve at about 69 billion US dollar,
an external debt under control, and a manageable degree of non-performing
loans in the finance sector. However, the internal debt is too large and
the answer to this partly comes with increasing privatisation, which will
decrease the debt burden.
In an impressive speech about Environment, Mr Pradeep
Mallick, pointed to the many similarities in Indian and Swedish
views on environmental protection, views that are also expressed in international
negotiations of various kinds. The challenge for business is to make companies
and business leaders aware of the environmental issues, i e the pollution
of land, water and air that comes with industrialisation. The now industrialised
countries have all faced these problems in their development and there
is now a growing awareness in India about these things. Sweden has advanced
technology in many fields to deal with these environmental problems and
makes an excellent partner to Indian companies in this regard. Mr Mallick
finished his speech by suggesting three areas of cooperation:
1) establishment of a joint website on environmental issues,
2) arranging of an Indo-Swedish environmental summit (organised by CII),
3) visit of an Indian environmental committee to Sweden (also organised
The Swedish business leaders announced at the meeting that
they had formed a Sweden India Business Council with the support of major
Swedish business companies working in India. It is currently led by an
interim board, which is chaired by Mr Bo Landin
from the International Council of Swedish Industry.
At the seminar, he developed some of the ideas that were behind this initiative.
He said that:
- Indias economy has so far been largely ignored
- the Swedish Government is now keen on promoting increased trade and
business with India, and
- existing longstanding business engagements like that of SKF, Ericsson,
etc., could serve as stepping stones for new ventures.
The council aims at, among other things:
- promoting Indian industries in Sweden
- exploring new ventures for Swedish industries in India, and
- influencing Indian, Swedish, and European Union politics to achieve
Comments could this work?
At first glance, Sweden and India would appear as very unequal
partners with Indias population a hundred times bigger than that
of Sweden. However, it was not so long ago that the two countries had
industrial sectors of about equal size. This, together with the fact that
Sweden specializes in some of the most promising sectors of the fast emerging
Indian markets could make for a rather balanced relationship and fruitful
There are also similarities of outlook on economic policy and strategies
in India and Sweden. For example, the public sector has a rather strong
position in both countries and business leaders are used to working in
both of these sectors and to cooperation between them. Another factor
conducive to cooperation is that India and Sweden has a joint background
in the non-aligned movement. On environmental and WTO issues there is
also a fair degree of agreement, which could lead to intensified cooperation.
However, in order to really promote India-Sweden business
exchange, it is important that business leaders and politicians engage
in direct and focussed networking of strategic interest to the task (like
for example the establishment of a simplicity corridor as
suggested at the meeting). Is there, for example, a chance to bring down
further import tariffs in bilateral trade relations? Work on WTO and EU
related trade issues is important but will need a lot of patience and
may take a long time in yielding results.
At present, there is a strong risk that protectionism rather
than free trade will dominate the world economy (due to recent policies
in the West and the risk of war in the Middle East). In such a situation,
the strengthening of IndoSwedish bilateral relations could be a
way out. There is no doubt that there is now a great opportunity for Swedish
business in India with the slackening of demands and investment opportunities
in other markets. India offers stability and vast scope for those companies
willing to invest.
The idea to use already existing business relations to serve as a spring
board for new companies should be taken up seriously since it offers a
creative way to facilitate investments in a different business culture.
Prospects for wider cooperation to achieve increased economic
To the academic community, the initiative to actively promote
India Sweden business exchange is a most welcome development. The
recently started Swedish South Asia Studies Network
SASNET is keen to be a partner in this. Our main aim is
to stimulate partnership in research and higher education. With increased
academic exchange, competence in business and technology as well as intercultural
understanding will be enhanced.
SASNET connects more than 70 different Swedish research environments and
their affiliates all over India. Amongst these there are several departments
with advanced research in biotechnology, medicine, water management, etc.,
which could provide creative input into industrial and service oriented
Increased business also means increased need of basic knowledge
of the Indian and Swedish political and economic context. It is the ambition
of SASNET to help in promoting the development of such knowledge through
research, educational courses, seminars, and workshops. More concretely,
basic undergraduate courses about Indian culture, politics and economy
are now given at some of the major Swedish Universities. At Lund and Uppsala
universities Masters courses in modern Indian studies are now being developed.
It is to be expected that future business people will be recruited with
such an educational background. At the other end, there is now an increasing
flora of Masters courses about Sweden at the major Swedish universities,
which could be attended by Indian students intending to work in Sweden/Scandinavia.
The major Nordic universities are now setting up a Nordic
Centre in India, which will have a small office and a guesthouse in
New Delhi. The task of the Centre, like that of SASNET, is to promote
exchange of researchers and students between India and the Nordic countries.
It is our hope that the Nordic Centre will become one of many places for
fruitful meetings between business people and the academia.