Interview of H.E. Mr. Sibi George, Ambassador of India to Switzerland


New Delhi: India and Switzerland have 70th Anniversary of Treaty of Friendship from 1948-2018.  Do you think relations between our two nations are at all time high?

India and Switzerland are celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship this year.  India and Switzerland have close relations and share the values of democracy and rule of law. India is world’s largest democracy while Switzerland is world’s oldest modern democracy. In last seven decades, our friendship has consistently seen an upward trajectory, and the bilateral relations can definitely be considered to be at an all-time high.  This is evidenced by      the regular high level political interaction taking place in the past few years, the latest being during visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Davos for the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum where he delivered the opening key note address on January 23, 2018.

Many high-level visits have taken place on either side in the last 2-3 years, further strengthening relations.  Please let us know about such visits?

India-Switzerland dialogue process includes a number of high-level bilateral interactions taking place regularly.  These high-level visits have served the purpose of giving momentum as well as direction to the bilateral engagement. In this context, the relations have become much more intense since the visit of PM Shri Narendra Modi to Geneva in June 2016. This was followed by the State Visit of the Swiss President H.E. Mrs. Doris Leuthard to India in 2017. The Joint Statement issued during this visit refers to the India-Switzerland relations as a ‘Long Standing Dynamic Partnership’.  In January 2018, PM Shri Narendra Modi visited Davos and held bilateral discussions with the Swiss President H.E. Mr. Alain Berset. The visit was also historic as this was the first time an Indian Prime Minister delivered opening keynote address at the Plenary of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum. It was also after a gap of 20 years that an Indian Prime Minister participated in the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Other high-level visits to Switzerland included visit in January 2018 to Davos of Commerce and Industry Minister Shri Suresh Prabhu, Minister of P&NG and Skill Development Shri Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister for Railways and Coal Shri Piyush Goyal, MoS in PMO Dr. Jitendra Singh and MoS for External Affairs Shri M. J. Akbar. Besides, Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra also attended WEF.  At the Ministerial level, one of the recent visits is of Minister of Health and Family Welfare Shri J P Nadda who interacted with CEOs and senior Executives of the the medical and health sector companies in Switzerland. Two separate delegations from the Maharashtra legislature also visited Switzerland this year. Equally important is the large number of high level of industry and business delegations that visit Switzerland regularly.

Bilateral trade between the two countries has grown over the years.  Kindly elaborate?

Bilateral trade between India and Switzerland is expanding.   Switzerland is the 9th largest trading partner and 5th largest import destination for India with the total bilateral trade amounting to USD 20 billion in 2017-2018.  Switzerland is also the 11th largest investor into India.  Sectors such as clean technology, life sciences, precision engineering, medical technology etc. represent opportunities for Switzerland to invest in India with mutually beneficial outcomes. There is a lot of untapped potential for investment from Switzerland into India which can cater to the aspirations of a growing economy such as India as well as pay rich dividends to the Swiss investors.

What are the major items of exports from Switzerland to India and vice-versa?

The major items of Indian export to Switzerland include textiles and garments, organic chemicals, pearls, precious stones and jewellery, dye stuffs, non-electrical machinery and parts, leather products, shoes, cotton plastics, coffee tea and hand-knotted carpets while major items of Switzerland’s export to India are chemicals and machinery, transport equipment, precision engineering products and watches.  But the biggest export item from Switzerland to India has been precious metals.

What is the presence of Indian businesses in Switzerland and what are the major investment opportunities for Indian businesses in Switzerland?

Recent Indian investments in Switzerland have gone into sectors such as ICT, life sciences, engineering and chemicals. Major Indian IT companies including TCS, Infosys, HCL, Tech Mahindra, etc. have their offices in Switzerland and provide services to major Swiss pharma companies, banks and insurance firms. Indian companies in pharma and life science sectors having presence in Switzerland include Dr. Reddy, Wockhardt and Glenmark. Tata and Birla also have their representative offices. Switzerland is attractive for Indian investors due to its strategic location in Europe and the brand advantage it gives as a manufacturing location.  Also, its political and economic suitability, modern infrastructure, prominence of the strong financial centre, strong industry and technology clusters and modern tax structure are definite advantages for Indian businesses to consider for investment in Switzerland.

What is the presence of Swiss businesses in India?

Switzerland invested FDI equity worth approximately USD 4.31 billion in India from April 2000 to March 2018 thus becoming the 11th largest investor and accounting for about 1.14% of total FDI in India during this period. More than 250 Swiss companies have a presence in India through their own subsidiaries and joint ventures.In terms of industry-wise distribution of Swiss investments in India, traditional sectors of Swiss excellence, e.g. engineering and industrial equipment, services (tourism, financial, logistics etc.), precision instruments, chemicals and pharmaceuticals continue to maintain top positions. Most of the Swiss multinational companies like Nestle, ABB, Novartis, Roche UBS and Credit Suisse etc. have their operations in India.Recent reform initiatives by India have created enhanced potential for Swiss businesses. Sectors such as clean technology, life sciences, precision engineering, medtech, financial services and fintech, construction materials and equipment, consumer goods, railways and defense offer plenty of opportunities for Swiss companies.

What kind of cultural exchanges are taking place between the two nations?  What are the major tourism opportunities in Switzerland?

India and Switzerland benefit from good people-to-people relations over the past many years. Despite the absence of a structured mechanism for cultural exchange, Indian culture, art, yoga and Ayurveda are quite familiar to the people in Switzerland and regular cultural exchanges take place in both the countries.  Embassy of India has been in the forefront of facilitating this cultural exchange through various activities such as celebration of International Day of Yoga as well as Festivals of India in Switzerland etc.  The Fourth International Day of Yoga was celebrated in Switzerland in 12 locations across the country which saw participation from a large number of local citizens.  It has to be mentioned that yoga is practised on a daily basis by a large number of Swiss citizens and they also identify this cultural heritage of India which has contributed towards better understanding of our culture.  Ayurveda is also widely practised in Switzerland and is regulated through a legal framework.

Rabindranath Tagore Chair of Indian Studies is functioning in the University of Lausanne as established by an MOU between ICCR and the University of Lausanne.  Under this Chair, a Professor of Hindi visits the University on a regular basis and Hindi classes are included in the regular curriculum of the university.

Museum Rietberg in Zurich is a treasure trove of Indian artefacts as well as Indian Miniature Paintings.  Various groups of artists from India perform in Switzerland on a regular basis.  On account of all of this, a tradition of strong cultural relation exists between India and Switzerland.

With regard to tourism, Switzerland is a major tourist destination for Indian tourists which may be seen from the fact that more than four lakh Indian tourists visit Switzerland every year.  Bollywood movies including those produced by Yash Chopra have contributed significantly to the flow of Indian tourists to Switzerland by picturing Switzerland as the ideal tourist getaway destination. Locations in Switzerland such as Interlaken, Zurich, Mount Titlis, Zermatt, Lucerne, etc are prominent destinations for Indian tourists, providing unique experiences about Swiss geographical beauty, cultural traditions etc.  Similarly large number of Swiss tourists also visit India.  The Government of India has extended  the  e-Tourist  Visa facility to Switzerland in February 2016 due to which Swiss Tourists can now apply and receive e-Tourist Visa online significantly improving the traffic of Swiss tourists to India.  The Embassy is taking a series of tourism promotion activities in 2018-19 to promote Swiss tourism to India including Medical and Health Tourism.

Does Switzerland cooperation in Skill Development, help to boost the Skill India Mission?

Switzerland is a partner for India in the field of skill development and vocational education training.  The dual system of education of Switzerland is world class. At the private sector level, a number of Swiss companies having presence in India have started their vocational training centres. At the Government-to-Government level, a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the fields of skill development as well as vocational and professional education and training was signed in June 2016 .  Under this MoU, an Indo-Swiss Joint Working Group on Vocational Education and Training has been created which held its first meeting in April 2017.  Institutions such as Bhartiya Skill Development Campus and University in Jaipur, SkillSonics India Pvt. Ltd., etc. are indicative of the intense engagement between the two countries in the field of skill development.

Going forward, what is your own vision for taking relations between India and Switzerland to the next level?

India-Switzerland relations are currently at an all-time high with regular high-level interactions, engagement through dialogue mechanisms, strong commercial and trade relations, as well as growing people-to-people contacts.  India and Switzerland share strong democratic values and have been partners in each other’s progress over the years.  Strong synergistic exchanges in the field of commercial cooperation as well as political engagements exist which can be further nurtured.  Switzerland was one of the first countries with which India signed a bilateral Treaty of Friendship back in 1948.  This treaty of friendship has stood the test of time and has become the basis for building a strong and vibrant relation over the past seven decades. Through the commemoration of this strong foundation of our bilateral relation, both countries are looking forward to further strengthen and expand our horizons of engagement.  With our shared values of democracy and ‘unity in diversity’, India and Switzerland can progress together in their endeavour for a better world. In this 70th anniversary year, it is our endeavour to take proactive steps to ensure implementation of the Joint Statement for a ‘Long Standing Dynamic Partnership’ that India and Switzerland issued in August 2017 during the State visit of President H.E. Mrs. Doris Leuthard to India.

Leave a Comment