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

“With a motto ‘Connecting Himalayas with Alps’ we are engaging Switzerland at all levels”

His Excellency, can you tell us about your experience as an Indian Ambassador to Switzerland and what are your priorities?

It is an honour and a privilege to represent India which is one of the greatest civilizations, largest democracies and fastest growing large economy in the world. India and Switzerland have established a ‘long standing dynamic partnership’. India-Switzerland relations are at its best and this is reflected in the political, economic as well as people to people ties. The India team in Switzerland have expanded the outreach and engagement of India with all stakeholders in Switzerland. With a motto ‘Connecting Himalayas with Alps’ we are engaging Switzerland at all levels. Everywhere that I traveled in Switzerland, I have always noted an India connection. Apart from Bollywood and Indian restaurants, Switzerland has also embraced Yoga and Ayurveda in a big way. India is viewed with love and excitement by the Swiss. Swiss businesses look at India as a huge opportunity, a billion opportunity. Switzerland takes pride in its institutions of direct democracy and looks to India to see how she manages her huge diversity under a democratic system.

One of the priorities of the Team India in Switzerland has been to expand the outreach of the Embassy and engage with different stakeholders more effectively. We reached out to the Swiss government and businesses at all levels with various new initiatives. In January 2018, Prime Minister of India HE Shri. Narendra Modi delivered the opening key note address at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, in Davos, putting India in the forefront of business and investment discourse in Switzerland, in Europe and beyond. While various high level visits have added momentum to the bilateral political relationship, Embassy has been focusing on converting this energy into concrete results through the various Bilateral Dialogue Mechanisms and into Commercial Engagement with its unique MISSP (Momentum in India Swiss SME) Programme. Switzerland is currently the 9th largest trading partner of India. With innovative new platforms such as Indian Professionals’ Network (IPN) and Indian Cultural Network (ICN), Embassy has harnessed the strong people to people relations between the two countries converting them into tangible outcomes. Last year, we celebrated the 70th Anniversary of signing of India – Switzerland Friendship Treaty with a Festival of India which reached out to almost all corners of Switzerland. The Mission launched its Consular services in the city of Zurich, which has been very helpful for the Indian Diaspora.

There is a strong Indian presence in Switzerland. A word for students and professionals willing to explore their options in Switzerland.

Switzerland has a strong and vibrant Indian Diaspora. Most of them are professionals contributing significantly to their organizations.

Most of them have made Switzerland their home due to their work or family ties. Despite living in Switzerland for many years, all of them reminisce fondly about their Indian roots and this is reflected in the vigor and passion with which they celebrate their Indian-ness. There are many associations of Indians in Switzerland including those of Indian Students. They come together in celebrating different Indian festivals as well as provide a support system for new comers to Switzerland to find their feet in the country. Switzerland is a rule bound society and rewards hard work with a good standard of living. For students, Switzerland provides some of the World’s best technical and Business Universities boasting of numerous Nobel Prizes. More and more courses are being offered in English, in these Universities and Indian Students have started to look at Switzerland with increased interest to take advantage of it. Embassy invites all Indian Students and Indian Diaspora to remain in touch with us through various platforms including our social media. Indian students in Switzerland are active participants at various events that the Indian Cultural Network and Indian Professionals Network organized in Switzerland.

Which are the major sectors for investment between India and Switzerland? What can the Indian investors expect in the coming years?

I cannot think of a sector which is not ripe for investments between India and Switzerland. From food processing to waste management to space technology – all sectors provide ample opportunities. A lot of complementarities exist. If I were to highlight a few sectors, they would be ICT, AI, Robotics, High-Tech manufacturing, Medical Equipment, Pharmaceuticals, amongst many others. This year we are celebrating the ‘India Year of Science and Technology in Switzerland’. I am happy to note that a number of Indian companies, particularly in the sector of ICT have strong presence in Switzerland. There are over 250 Swiss companies present in India. It highlights our strong commercial linkages.

Switzerland invested approximately USD 4.39 billion in India between 2000-2018. Are there any steps being taken to increase these numbers?

While Switzerland is already the 11th largest investor in India, the potential for investments from Switzerland into India is tremendous. Team India in Switzerland has reached out to various Swiss stakeholders in this field. There is tremendous optimism in Swiss business about India. The reforms taking place in India are being keenly followed by the Swiss business. The Embassy is also executing Momentum In India: Swiss SMEs Programme (MISSP) as a platform for forging links between Indian and Swiss companies. We have also been regularly participating in the Annual Meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Our participation this year included the setting up of the India Investment Centre at Davos Promenade which received enthusiastic response. Lounges were also set up by Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Government of Telangana, and Government of Maharashtra.

Last year both countries decided to resume talks on EFTA – India Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement. Have there been some recent developments?

The matter is being discussed at the highest level. Both sides share interest in concluding negotiations. There are certain sticking points which are being discussed.

Switzerland and India celebrated 70 years of the Indo-Swiss Bilateral Friendship Treaty in 2018. Have the relations between the two countries progressed in these past years?

India-Switzerland Bilateral relations have seen a consistent upward trajectory in the past years. The Celebrations of the 70th Anniversary of the signing of Friendship Treaty between India and Switzerland, last year were a culmination and commemoration of the strategic nature of our relationship. This is evidenced in the regular high level visits between the two countries. Switzerland was one of the first countries with which India signed a Treaty of Friendship. India’s soft power components such as Bollywood, Cuisine, Yoga, Ayurveda and people to people relations have steadily improved over the years. India is seen as an emerging techno giant with a huge market. Commercial relations haven’t still achieved their full potential between the two countries and the Team India in Switzerland is working diligently to realize the same.

Are there any steps being taken to increase tourism relations between the two countries?

The year 2019 is being celebrated as the ‘India-Switzerland Year of Tourism’. Embassy of India conducted an ‘India-Switzerland Tourism Summit’ this year in Bern with wide participation from the Tourism sectors of both countries. The wide ranging discussions during the summit helped in projecting India as the ‘Next destination’ for Swiss tourists. Switzerland is a major hub of  Tourism not only for Indians but for people from the World over. Therefore, promoting India as the next destination for tourists can encourage tourists from World over to look at the immense wealth of destinations that India has to offer. Team India in Switzerland has been constantly engaging with the Tourism sector in Switzerland with regular road shows and B to B events to promote engagement in the sector.

This year marked the 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. How will Indian Embassy in Switzerland commemorate the event?

India in Switzerland has been celebrating the 150th Birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi with a wide variety of events and programmes. These celebrations are special in Switzerland, as Gandhiji had visited Switzerland in 1931 on his way back after attending the Round Table Conference in London. He had stayed in the small town of Villeneuve along the banks of Geneva Lake on the invitation of the Nobel Laureate Mr. Romain Rolland. Mission inaugurated the year-long celebrations of the 150th Birth Anniversary with a special event to commemorate the day on Oct 2nd 2018. The notable other events include a ‘Philately Exhibition on Mahatma Gandhi’ curated by India Post conducted in collaboration with the Universal Postal Union (UPU); week long Gandhi Exhibitions in Zurich, Montreux and Lausanne; a cycle rally in Bern; Filming of Vaishnav JanTo, the favorite hymn of Mahatma Gandhi in the Alps mountains in Switzerland and the snow covered ranges in Liechtenstein; Monthly Quiz on Mahatma Gandhi; Gandhi Anthology by famous personalities in Switzerland, including the President of Switzerland, a series of ‘Remembering Mahatma Gandhi’ events in Bern with enthusiastic participation from children; Lecture Series on Mahatma Gandhi by famous personalities including founder of Art of Living HH Sri Sri Ravi Shankar etc. Through these events, Mission has rekindled Swiss imagination about Gandhiji and his philosophy. Following in the Embassy’s footsteps, many Indian Associations in Switzerland have taken over the celebrations of the 150th Birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, furthering the momentum in the country. Swiss public and various levels of Governments in Switzerland have enthusiastically participated in these events.

Any message would you like to give to our Envoy readers?

The connection between Himalayas and Alps are stronger and deeper than we think. The motto ‘Connecting Himalayas with Alps’ is welcomed by all. It is not limited to Bollywood, Mountains and Snow. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I see an India connect in every corner of Switzerland. It is much deeper than lakes and much higher than mountains. It is one involving universities, business establishments, laboratories, factories, technology cooperation, research, music and dance, you name it. If nothing else, there is the connection of Yoga and Ayurveda. Today this relationship is on an upward trajectory with Political, Business and people to people relations set to steadily achieve greater heights in the years to come. We are happy that European businesses including Swiss business are increasingly engaging with India. In its transformational journey, India regards Switzerland and Swiss companies as natural partners. I invite all Swiss friends to visit India to explore the billion experiences that India offers today. Come and enjoy our diversity. Come and partner in our economic and technological transformation. It is a billion opportunities, don’t miss it.

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