Economic relevance seems to be the driving force behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s choice of France, Germany and Canada as he begins his tour of these countries.
Germany, the economic powerhouse of Europe, is India’s largest trading partner in the continent with 1,000 German companies operating here and a two-way commerce of $16 billion.
In an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times, Mr Modi stressed the need for more active trade diplomacy as a means of pushing India towards greater global engagement.
Germany is also the gateway to the European Union (EU), with which India has a trade surplus of 1.51 billion euros.
The visit will also serve to restart the stalled Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement with the EU, which covers a vast array of areas ranging from intellectual property rights to technical barriers to trade.
With France, the meeting point is its strategic support of India’s nuclear programme and defence ties, with negotiations continuing over the procurement of the fighter aircraft Rafale. Discussions on the free trade agreement are on with the EU and this will be a focus of his visit.
What India needs, Canada has in terms of energy sources and minerals. Canada has been off the foreign policy radar for quite a while with the last prime ministerial visit being in 2010 but which was part of a multilateral summit.
This diplomatic outreach is of a piece with the one with the Saarc nations. This has resulted in cooperation on road services, commerce and security and has given a fillip to a relationship long held hostage by India-Pakistan bilateral problems.
With Pakistan, the outstanding issue of terrorism prevented the sort of progress seen with other Saarc nations and the PM laid down the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration as the basis for further negotiations.
The economic agenda at home too features high on the PM’s priorities. While the focus on the common man would form the fulcrum of economic policy, it by no means suggests being anti-industry.
But industry would not be given any hand-outs; rather it was encouraged to make use of the conducive business climate that had been created. There have been recent rumblings that the government is too lenient towards industry and this was Mr Modi’s answer to that charge.
He did, however, allude to the fact that industry had been hobbled by various unfair legislative provisions and that his government has tried to correct them. It has barely been a year since the NDA came to power on a wave of great expectations. The PM’s free-wheeling interview seeks to present a realistic picture of what has moved ahead so far and what has not and the reasons for both.
Stories from the interview: