Meeting of Indian and Swedish business leaders in Stockholm, 7 October 2002:

The seminar with the theme ”India and Sweden – New Vistas of Cooperation” was held in Stockholm on Monday 7 October, 2002. More than one hundred Indian and Swedish business leaders met in this seminar, which was hosted by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), the Swedish Trade Council (Exportrådet) and Swedish Federation of Trade (Svensk Handel).
The meeting was an outcome of an initiative taken by the Ambassador of India, Ms Chitra Narayanan, and the leaders of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), who were on their way to the Third EU–India Summit in Copenhagen held on 10 October, 2002.

An important ambition of the Swedish Government’s 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 5–6 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:

- IT
- Telecommunications
- Biotechnology
- Environmental technology
- Pharmaceuticals

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 investments.

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 Ericsson’s R & D units in India.

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 5–6 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), and
3) visit of an Indian environmental committee to Sweden (also organised by CII).

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:

- India’s 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 these goals.

Comments – could this work?

At first glance, Sweden and India would appear as very unequal partners with India’s 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 cooperation.
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 Indo–Swedish 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 cooperation

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 business ventures.

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.

Staffan Lindberg, Director of SASNET

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Last updated 2006-01-27