Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Economic Diplomacy in a Globalized World: Evolving Role of the Ministry of External Affairs

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Economic Diplomacy in a Globalized World: Evolving Role of the Ministry of External Affairs

Article excerpt

Amar Nath Ram, is a former Ambassador of India to the European Union, UNESCAP, Zambia, Thailand, Argentina, Bhutan and Belgium. During the early economic reforms period, he served as the first full-fledged Secretary (Economic Relations) in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). In this interview with the Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, he shares his experiences of and insights about the role of the MEA in promoting India's economic interests in the context of globalization.

Indian Foreign Affairs Journal (IFAJ): Having studied Economics at college level and having served in various capacities dealing with economic and commercial work in the Ministries of Commerce and External Affairs and in our Missions abroad, you must have found economic work in Brussels both a challenge and an opportunity. Please tell us about your Brussels experience.

Amar Nath Ram (ANR): In late 1993 I was nominated to serve in Brussels as Ambassador to the European Union. The EU, as our largest economic partner, accounting for approximately 30 per cent of our global economic exposure, had been an important collaborator in trade, investments, joint ventures, technology, services and tourism, as also potentially in political and strategic terms. I was acutely conscious of my daunting responsibilities and was humbled and excited by the challenges and opportunities that awaited me at a crucial time in our potentially promising relations with the EU in a rapidly changing global environment.

By the autumn of 1995, we were substantially able to give added thrust to our relations with the EU in the changed context. The fourth-generation cooperation and partnership agreement had been finalized. This was expected to lead to new opportunities and imperatives. India's "graduation" in some vital sectors from the EU's scheme of generalized tariffpreferences for developing countries was imminent. A perception was evident that the relationship would soon need to move away from one largely based on development cooperation and trade preferences to greater and broader content and reciprocity. The Joint Commission mechanism also needed to be made more broad-based, recognizing India's growing and evident potential. The European Commission (the executive arm of the EU) undertook and finalized a new strategy paper with due emphasis on strengthening and broad-basing relations with India, an exercise in which we at the Embassy were closely associated and provided inputs.

At the political level, India became one of the few Asian countries to have a Foreign Minister-level "Troika" annual dialogue (comprising the EU's current, immediate past and the next President) with the EU with a broad-based political agenda going beyond bilateral concerns to cover issues of global and regional interest to both. This paved the way for the summit-level annual dialogue to be in place in 2000, and eventually a strategic partnership. For the first time, political and security issues like transnational crime, drugs and terrorism were discussed at the experts level on an institutionalized basis and arrangements for cooperation agreed upon. The volume of trade and investments grew impressively, making the EU the single biggest growth area for India's exports. Tie-ups in technology, joint ventures and the services sectors also registered an upward trend.

Our sustained efforts to reach out to opinion-makers and policymakers included a special focus on influential institutions like the European Parliament. We were able to gather a number of important members of the European Parliament under the umbrella of a newly formed Friends of India group. Likewise, we were able to set up an Eminent Persons' Group, which included two Nobel Laureates, leading intellectuals, eminent cultural personalities and other opinion-makers. In our effort to inform students and young academics about present-day India and to instil an interest in India-related studies, we were, with the support of the Antwerp Indian community, able to establish the first Centre for India Studies in the EU at the Antwerp University. …

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