India-Nordic Summit: A unique platform for collective engagement

The second edition is being held against the backdrop of Covid economic slowdown and the Russia-Ukraine war
Last Updated 04 May 2022, 10:39 IST

During his current sojourn to countries in Europe, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the India-Nordic Summit on Wednesday, a meeting where the leaderships of five countries - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – will collectively interact with the Indian prime minister.

The countries, which have technological prowess and growing business ties, will explore cooperation in five areas of mutual interest. These include green partnership, digital and innovation economy, trade and investment linkages, sustainable development, and collaboration regarding the Arctic region. Apart from the United States, India is the only other country with which the Nordic countries have summit-level meetings.

At the inaugural edition of the summit in 2018, the focus of the leadership was on global security, economic growth, innovation and climate change while emphasising innovation and digital transformation as a driver of growth.

The second edition is being held against the backdrop of the two most significant events that affected the world. One is post-pandemic economic recovery, and the other is the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia. After suffering for two years due to severe restrictions on movement dictated by the global health pandemic, just as the world was working towards the recovery of economies, a new situation is now on the horizon, the war in Ukraine, which is exerting tremendous pressure in the form of high energy costs and food stocks.

The strength of the Nordic countries lies as leaders in global innovation, and the first summit sought to explore an extension of the application to New Delhi's flagship programmes like Make in India, Startup India, Digital India and Clean India, besides the support of the Nordic countries' Sustainable Cities Project to India's Smart Cities project.

India and Nordic countries enjoy robust business partnerships though the economics of these five countries individually is much smaller than those of the G20 countries. The combined GDP is over $1.6 trillion, with a per capita income of around $54,000. The total bilateral trade and services between India and the Nordic countries is US$13 billion.

The Nordic countries followed the progress of the India-European Union Free Trade Agreement, hoping an early conclusion would pave the way for increased engagement under a liberalised regime. Most Indians' lives are touched by companies from the Nordic countries, such as Volvo, Ericsson IKEA, Tetra Pak, Kone, Ahlstrom, and Wartsila, which are present in India.

In terms of geography, these countries with 3.42 million square kilometres have a territory larger than India and a population of some 270 million. These countries take pride in remaining on the top in education, quality of life, human development, competitive economy and protection of the environment. Besides emphasising child rights, these countries put a premium on civil liberties.

Marching ahead with technological advancement, these countries have acquired strength in dairy, food processing, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and renewable energy. In addition, telecommunications, shipbuilding, maritime, oil and gas and electronics are other sectors that contribute to the economy of these countries.

After the last summit, the prime ministers underscored that a strong partnership could provide impetus to innovation, economic growth, sustainable solutions and mutually beneficial trade and investment. The summit stressed the importance of vibrant people-to-people contacts through education, culture, labour mobility and tourism, areas in which the Nordic countries and India witness a steady rise. Besides economy, trade and investment, the summit can be seen from the perspective of the concept of the welfare state that goes along with capitalism and democratic practices, blending the welfare model with the market economy.

Five years ago, Finland became the first country to introduce Universal Basic Income, an idea that some economists are advocating as an experiment to transfer money straight to beneficiaries taking care of uncertainties due to changing economic landscape and loss of jobs due to technological advancement. On the part of India, the country also has a direct benefit transfer scheme. The government put it to efficacious use during the Covid pandemic lockdowns, offering financial assistance to the underprivileged sections.

As for relations with each of the five countries, India and Denmark elevated bilateral ties to Green Strategic Partnership in 2020, and Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen paid a visit last October. Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland and Modi held a remote bilateral meeting in March 2021, and both leaders agreed on partnerships for sustainable development and digitalisation. Iceland was one of the first Nordic countries to support India's candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. It co-sponsored a resolution at the UN to declare June 21 as the International Day of Yoga. Sweden was the venue for the first Nordic Summit, and Norway and India relations date back to February 1947.

At the first summit, the Nordic countries welcomed India's application for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers' Group. They reaffirmed their commitment to work constructively within the grouping to reach a positive outcome at the earliest opportunity. The Copenhagen meeting will provide an opportunity to review the road travelled during the past four years.

(K V Prasad is a senior journalist based in New Delhi)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

(Published 04 May 2022, 10:39 IST)

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