'Many Indian companies are already looking our way'

'Many Indian companies are already looking our way'

The new Social Democrat government led by prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho has hiked taxes, cut spending and promised to push through structural reforms to meet its bailout terms.
Far from seeing this as a negative factor, Portugal’s ambassador to India Jorge Roza de Oliveira says the economic crisis provides an opportune time for Indian companies to invest in the European Union country.

Portugal is the fourth largest producer of wines in Europe, but its presence in India is negligible. Looking to change that, the 52-year-old career diplomat has been campaigning to make inroads into the Indian wine market. But in Goa, where Portugal ruled for 451 years, its relations with the former colony remain tenuous and uneasy, courtesy the freedom fighters’ lobby. Portugal, de Oliveira told Devika Sequeira of Deccan Herald, has no problem in participating in the celebrations of Goa’s 50th anniversary of Liberation, provided it received an invitation. Your prime minister has said that Portugal will do everything possible to avoid a debt default.

How difficult will it be to push through tough austerity measures?
The Portuguese government is making a concerted effort to apply the necessary measures imposed by the economic context. Only this week the International Monetary Fund said that control of expenditures and spending cuts in Portugal will be vital, as discussions turn to our 2012 budget within the next few weeks.

The adjustment programme in Portugal is broadly on track, despite minor fiscal slippages in 2011. The IMF has called for a ‘first bold move’ to reduce government social security contributions, a key measure to cut expenditures and improve Portugal’s competitiveness. Also, do not forget that, although we face limited direct impact from the worsening Greek debt crisis, we have been able to escape broader investor concerns about the financial health of euro zone periphery states.

What message would you have for Indian companies looking to invest in your country at a time like this?
The Chinese ideogram for crisis joins the ideograms for risk and for opportunity. Portugal, despite the crisis, is giving an opportunity to strengthen its economy and better attract foreign investment. Our labour laws will be reviewed, privatisations will take place, companies’ assets will be sold at competitive prices. We welcome Indian investment, and many companies are already looking our way, in search of further opportunities.

You’ve said bilateral trade between India and Portugal is far below expectations. In which sectors can this improve?
Not only trade, but investment too. We are well below our potential. Many Portuguese companies, from varied sectors, are looking at opportunities in India. During the first semester of this year, Portuguese exports more than doubled on a year-to-year basis. Machine tools and equipment constitute the bulk of our exports, a niche that I am convinced will expand further consistently. I myself have been pushing wine and olive-oil, promoting events for professionals in this area. We are very hopeful that this will bring results soon.

As for investment, Portugal has come a long way in the last 35 years. We are a different country today, in spite of all the crises. There are a few sectors which India needs and where we have been successful — infrastructure, water management, waste management, and alternative energies. These are four areas where a lot could be done between our two countries.

Goa is celebrating the golden jubilee of its Liberation from Portuguese rule this year. Will there be a diplomatic gesture from Portugal to acknowledge this significant event?
The excellent political relations between our two countries is the best sign that the past has been dealt with and we now must look together, as friendly democracies, to the future. We have not yet received any indication that we will be invited for any events in Goa, but will certainly react positively if we do.

In Goa there is still a strong degree of resentment against the Portuguese, particularly from a section of freedom fighters. What would you say to them?
We certainly respect freedom fighters and what they stood for. Portugal has been a democracy since 1974. With the revolution that year we brought to an end a right-wing dictatorship and a colonial power. Many of the Portuguese leaders since were themselves freedom fighters in their own right.

Portuguese nationality has given Goans access to jobs in the UK and other EU countries. More Goans with Portuguese nationality have gone to the UK than to Portugal in recent years. Is this an issue for Portugal?
Those Indian citizens who acquire Portuguese nationality have the same rights as those of other EU citizens — the freedom to live and work anywhere in the European Union.

There has been some political pressure in Lisbon to change the laws that allow Indians from Goa, Daman and Diu to apply for Portuguese nationality. What is your view on this?
I do not have a personal view on this. Portugal's position is still the same and we have not felt any political pressure to change.

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