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In an interview with Diplomacy and Beyond Plus H.E. MR SIBI GEORGE, Ambassador of India to Switzerland

Q. Excellency, India and Switzerland are celebrating 70 years of bilateral ties this year. How do you view the relationship between the two countries so far?

India and Switzerland have a long standing dynamic partnership.  Switzerland was the first country with which India signed the Treaty of Friendship in 1948.  Our bilateral relationship is underpinned by our common values such as democracy and pluralism.  The relationship has gained tremendous momentum in the last two years subsequent to the visit of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to Geneva in June 2016.  It was followed by the state visit of the Swiss President H.E. Ms. Doris Leuthard to India in August – September 2017.  Prime Minister Modi again visited Switzerland in January this year.   He met the Swiss President H.E. Mr. Alain Berset in Davos and also gave the keynote address at the Plenary of the 48th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum.    Last month, Swiss Foreign Minister, Dr. Ignazio Cassis was in India on an official visit. I can firmly say that the India-Switzerland relationship is at its highest peak ever.

Q. Switzerland is India’s 7th largest trading partner. According to figures for 2017-18 given by Federal Council and Customs Administration of Switzerland, bilateral trade between India and Switzerland stood at USD $21 billion. What can be done to further enhance trade between India and Switzerland?

Switzerland is India’s second largest trading partner in Europe, just behind Germany.  Switzerland is also the largest export sourcing country in Europe for India.  Though, I should mention that a large part of the India-Switzerland trade is in precious metals.  India and EFTA countries (including Switzerland) have been negotiating the India-European Free Trade Association(EFTA) Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement for a decade now. The need of the hour is to expedite the negotiations and conclude them. I am hopeful that signing of the India-EFTA TEPA would give a major fillip to our bilateral commercial relations.

 Q. Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the first Indian PM to make a bilateral visit to Switzerland. He also gave the keynote speech at the WEF’s meet this year. How significant do you think is this visit in strengthening of ties between India and Switzerland?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Switzerland this year was a historic visit. During the meeting with the Swiss President  H.E. Mr. Alain Berset, the entire gamut of India-Switzerland bilateral relationship was discussed and reviewed.  Prime Minister Modi became the first Indian  Prime Minister to make the inaugural address at the World Economic Forum.  The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has added a lot of content and provided a detailed agenda for the relationship.

Q.  The Indian diaspora, currently, has a very thriving community in Switzerland. How have they been an influence on the Swiss government’s administration and policy politics?

The Indian diaspora in Switzerland is well respected.  It includes professionals, students and also individuals active in the field of politics.  There are around 25,000 Indians and Indian origin persons in Switzerland. Earlier this year,  Mr. Niklaus S. Gugger, first Indian origin Member of Swiss Parliament and Mr. Jean P. Pinto, Mayor, Volketswil participated in the first PIO- Parliamentary Conference in January 2018.  I am happy to note that the Embassy of India in Berne and the Swiss Embassy,  New Delhi jointly organized an event in April 2018 to celebrate the role of contribution of Indian diaspora to Switzerland.

Q.  India and Switzerland have a very historical relation when it comes to cultural exchanges, particularly in the spheres of architecture, art, literature, dance, and visual arts. How do both countries plan on further enhancing ties in this sector?

In order to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of India-Switzerland Treaty of Friendship, the Embassy of India, Berne is organizing Festival of India all around Switzerland from September – December 2018.  The Festival will be a bouquet of classical and folk Indian dances and music.  I invite all the readers of this magazine to come and enjoy the various Festival of India performances. In addition, this Embassy has organized cultural event together with the prestigious Museum Reitberg in Zurich.  The Embassy has also created the Indian Cultural Network which brings together various cultural stakeholders in Switzerland, including the various Indian Associations in Switzerland.  Under the umbrella of the Indian Cultural Network, we have organized a book reading event of books written by Indian origin women authors.

What is your message for the readers of Diplomacy and Beyond Plus?

The India-Switzerland relationship is full of potentialities.  The recent high level interactions have brought in momentum in the relationship.  However, we need to keep working to broaden and deepen the various aspects of bilateral relations. Let us all work together in expanding the horizons of the India-Switzerland relationship. For the Indian and Indian-origin readers, I should emphasise that the Indian Embassy in Berne is a ‘Home Away from Home’ for them.

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