The Portuguese, beginning with President Anibal Cavaco Silva, are incredibly charged about improving relations with India and see the forthcoming visit of the president as the beginning of a new era.
Entrepreneurs in the country of 10 million people seek partnerships with Indian companies and Indian investment and tourism, said Carlos Nunes Pinto, the strategic investment advisor to the Invest in Portugal Agency. Companies like TCS, WIPRO, Ranbaxy and Suzlon are already in Portugal, while companies like Alcatel Portugal have invested in the telecommunications links of the Delhi Metro, he said.
Companies like Aerosoles have invested in a production factory at Wajalapet (near Chennai) in 2006, for the manufacture of 3,500 pairs of shoes daily.
Over six months prior to the president’s visit to India, from January 10 to 17, companies were quizzed about the nature of their business and future plans and only those that were found to be serious about doing business with India were chosen to form part of the president’s delegation comprising around 200 people. Of these 65 are heads of leading Portuguese companies like Chipidea, the world’s number one provider of analog/mixed signal intellectual property in wireline and wireless communications, Critical Software, Ydreams (games for mobile phones) and Biotecnol, doing pathbreaking research in antibody-based therapeutics for life-threatening ailments.
Portugal, president Silva said, could provide India not only with a bridge to the European Union, given its cheaper resource base, but also with a bridge to the 500 million strong markets in South America and Africa, with its privileged relations with Brazil and former colonies in Africa.
When asked why India would need Portugal, given the recently forged India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) link, Silva said "Portugal still has an advantage. Over half a million people in South Africa speak Portuguese," he said, "and we share a very special relation with Brazil." He was speaking at an interaction with a group of Indian journalists in Lisbon’s Presidential Palace.
The state visit to India from January 10 to 17 will be only his second visit abroad since he became Portugal's president ten months ago. His first visit abroad was to neighbouring Spain. Other than New Delhi, Silva will visit Goa, Mumbai and Bangalore, where he is due to visit the headquarters of Infosys, Wipro and Biocon.
A great deal of planning has gone into the forthcoming visit, with the impetus being directly provided by Silva. The president admitted that India and Portugal, despite historical links, have not been as close as they could have. Trade between the two countries is so low, it is "almost negligible," he said. Portugal had looked more towards Europe since the last presidential visit, by Mario Soares in 1992, while India had opened its markets and was "being courted by many countries."
Portugal’s exports to India are worth around 25 million dollars, while it imports around 208 million dollars worth of goods annually from India, mostly food products.
Talking of the changes between India and China as countries of "remarkable economic growth," the Portuguese president strongly pitched for the former.
"India has conditions for sustainable growth," he said. "First, it is a democracy. It is much easier to do business with a democracy. Second, the quality of its human resources are incredibly good. And finally, it is an open society."
Artur Duarte, the president of Aerosoles, concurred, saying it is much better to do business with India. "Indians speak English" and "it is possible to buy land in India, not China."