Barely a week after a terrorist attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi began a tight, day-long schedule focused mainly on terrorism and the resumption of stalled trade talks in Brussels on Wednesday.
In the Belgian capital to participate in the India-EU summit, Modi was greeted by Indian students and others as he arrived at the Steigenberger Wiltcher’s Hotel in Avenue Louise in the heart of Brussels. The summit is expected to provide ‘political impetus’ for resuming talks on the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) which proved challenging on multiple fronts in recent years.
After several engagements in the hotel, the Prime Minister will proceed to the Maelbeek metro station where he will lay a wreath in memory of those killed in last week’s blasts, including Indian IT professional, Raghavendra Ganesh.
A key aim of the summit is to ‘re-launch’ relations that hit a roadblock over the 2012 Italian marines case. The effort is clearly to put the past behind and start a new chapter since the last India-EU summit in New Delhi in 2012.
Much of the governments’ focus will be on resumption of trade talks during the summit that begins in the afternoon, and will be attended by the president of the European Council Donald Tusk, the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmstrom, and the Italian EU chief of foreign affairs Federica Mogherini.
Modi’s visit will also include bilateral talks with the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, talks with members of the European Parliament, Indologists, remote activation of the ARIES telescope in Devsthal, Nainital, and addressing a community reception in the evening.
During the trade talks, discussions on intellectual property are expected. The Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF; Doctors without Borders) however is weary that this could have a negative impact on access to medication, including the production and export of affordable generic medicines from India.
“India is such a vital source of affordable, generic life-saving medicines on which millions of people around the world rely, that any blow to the pharmacy of the developing world would have disastrous consequences,” said Joanne Liu, International President, MSF.
“As a medical treatment provider to people in over 60 countries, MSF is incredibly reliant on generic medicines from India to do our work; two thirds of all the drugs we purchase to treat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria are Indian generics. The reality is we wouldn’t be able to treat as many people if it weren’t for affordable generic medicines from India.”
Other issues are likely to crop up as the summit proceeds.
Modi’s visit is unlikely to make headlines in the local media though, as the city continues to grapple with the recent blasts. Explosions at the airport and metro station killed more than 30 people and injured about 270. While there is a sense of normality on the surface, it belies a distinct sense of edginess in using the public transport system.
There was some hectic activity however at the Brussels Expo on Tuesday evening, the venue of the community reception for Modi. Organised by the Antwerp Indian Association, the event is expected to be attended by over 5,000 people.
Mehul Kothari, chairman of the association, told Hindustan Times that almost all members of the Indian community will be travelling from Antwerp. Most members of the community with origins in Gujarat, Modi’s home state, are engaged in the multi-billion diamond trade.