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'India's growth stats make us jealous'

Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva feels a sense of proximity with India, writes Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: Jan 06, 2007 14:48 IST

It is not only India's growth figures, "which make us jealous," but the need to contribute to change and build on the "excellent" political relations Portugal has with India that is prompting President Anibal Cavaco Silva to visit India.

Set to arrive in India next week for the first visit by a Portuguese head of state in 15 years, President Silva told a select group of visiting Indian journalists he felt "a sense of proximity with India."

"The strong interest in India is not just for historical reasons," he said. "Goa is something we have in common. These are important assets to improve relations," he said, and "with (GDP) growth figures that make us jealous, I want to explain how Portugal can help Indian entrepreneurs," he said.

"I want to contribute to consolidate the excellent political relations with India by identifying and promoting areas of common interest," the 67- year-old Silva said, in a freewheeling hour-long conversation in Lisbon's 18th century presidential palace that was the former residence of the monarch.

"I hope to contribute to change the nature of the relationship," he said. "Economics and business play an important role in this visit, and "I want to see for myself what we study as a case history (in MBA programmes) for Asia's success stories."

Despite the "excellent political relations" the two countries share, Silva would not, however, comment on the India-US civil nuclear cooperation deal.

"It's not the time yet for the President to make a statement," he told HT. "In due time, when the agreement is presented to the international community (at the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the IAEA), we will study it and then comment."

Portugal was, however, among the first countries to "enthusiastically support and endorse India's claim, along with Brazil's, for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council." "We support India's leadership role as the world's largest democracy, for peace and stability."

Also, "Portugal held the Presidency of the European Union (in 2000) when India and the EU began their close relations," he said. Portugal will assume the EU Presidency again from July 2007, and Silva hoped many of the initiatives taken during his visit will be followed up and fructify when the Portuguese Prime Minister visits India for the India-EU Summit towards the end of the year.

Portugal, Silva said, could provide India 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."

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.

A great deal of planning has gone into the forthcoming visit, with the impetus being directly provided by Silva, who will be accompanied by a delegation of around 200 people including 65 businessmen and entrepreneurs personally selected by him. Books about India, including diplomat Pavan Verma's "Being Indian," have formed his staple bedside reading fare over the past few months.

Silva 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."

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."

A reluctant politician who claims he was "lucky," Silva, an economist by training, said he was looking forward to meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has "played a crucial role in India's remarkable growth story."

"I was born and studied to be a Professor. As a Professor of Economics, it is important to see how it was done. To see how millions of people were freed from poverty," he said.

First Published: Jan 06, 2007 13:26 IST