“In today’s world, politics follows business” – Ambassador of India to Ukraine

Ukraine Away

On January 26, the Embassy of India hosted a reception to celebrate the Republic Day of India. It was also to launch the year-long festivities to mark 70 years of India’s independence and 25 years of India-Ukraine diplomatic relationship. Earlier, Ukraine Away has spoken to Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of India to Ukraine – Mr. Manoj Kumar Bharti about prospects of India-Ukraine relations and current issues.

UkraineAway: Diplomacy is a delicate work in the context of finding a balance between politics and business, isn’t it?

Ambassador: In today’s world, politics follows business, not the other way round. This is my view, and especially with respect to India-Ukraine relationship. I strongly believe that we should concentrate less on the political development, to begin with, and build a stronger economic relationship. If the Ukrainian-Indian economic relationship is strong – politics will follow.

UkraineAway: How it works in reality?

Ambassador: When we say “business”, we are not concentrating on a private business as such; we are talking about the business relation between two countries – the level of trade and economic activity. The governments in today’s world concentrate on the relations with the countries where they have strong business interests. If today India wants to have a relationship with France or Germany, or China, or Japan, or the USA it is primarily because of economic reasons.

UkraineAway: And how can you describe Ukrainian-Indian relationship right now?

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Ambassador: This year we are celebrating 25 years of our diplomatic relationship and I would like to say that these 25 years have been very eventful. We have a number of cooperation agreements, memorandum of understanding, dealing with economic, cultural, consular directions, all areas are covered and we are still working on finding new agreements, looking for new areas of cooperation. We are satisfied with the current level of our bilateral relations but there is a lot more that can be done. From the beginning, India has seen Ukraine as a very prominent country in the European context, because is the largest in terms of area, has a very strong educational base, it has a big number of scientific and research establishments, almost the entire population is highly educated – all these make Ukraine very attractive country for India. Ukraine also has highly developed agricultural sector, you are the food basket of Europe to large extent. Still, our both countries have missed out on certain opportunities. India could have benefited more from Ukraine, because of the strong Ukraine’s scientific potential, I mean specific sectors like shipbuilding, like aviation – all these could have been better utilized by the corresponding establishments of India. Today India is recognizing the importance of Ukraine in niche areas, for example, our country is the largest destination of sunflower oil from Ukraine – 65% of all Ukrainian export to India. Also, not many people realize that India is the sixth or seventh largest trade partner for Ukraine with the total amount of trade in April 2015 – March 2016 (basing on our statistics) touching 2.01 bln USD. What is surprising, that from these figures, Ukraine has exported goods on 1.75 bln USD, so the trade balance that Ukraine has over India is nearly 1.50 bln USD.

I would categorize the relations between our countries as stable and growing.

UkraineAway: You’ve mentioned about achievements, and what has been lost within these 25 years?

Ambassador: I wouldn’t like to say “lost”, I would rather say “missed out”. We missed out a number of opportunities. India has lost some opportunities while other countries have gained from Ukraine a lot, India could have learned little more and could have benefited a little more. I am particularly quite sad that in the 90’s (after the independence – UaAway) when Ukraine was looking for partners all over the world, India was not fully involved in helping Ukraine. There was a time when it could have been a “win-win” situation for both countries: India was coming out of a very big economic recession itself. Ukraine got its independence in 1991 and India’s worst economic crisis was in 1991. So if we had cooperated more closely we would have seen the very mutually advantageous situation. But as we say in India: whenever you wake up – morning starts from there, so let’s not waste opportunities anymore and start building up on our links and finding new links.

UkraineAway: What obstacles can u name in Ukraine-India relationship?

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Ambassador: If you talk only in terms of economics, I would say two particular things. One – there is a lack of information. Companies in India do not know what kind of technologies are developed in the research institutions or in Ukrainian companies. I wish there was a better way to inform the Indian companies and stakeholders about products that are available in Ukraine. The second one – there is a huge amount of mistrust between establishments. Today the biggest problem that Ukraine faces in India in a general impression in the minds of the general public in India or business people in India, that getting a visa to Ukraine is extremely difficult. It is a very sad thing because of the huge potential of India. Indian population is roughly 1.25 bln, 30% of this population is as rich as Europeans or Americans and they are tourists, they travel all over the world, and when they travel they are the best spenders, or the second best spenders, after Chinese, we compete with each other. So 30% of this population is 375 mln people, and even if Ukraine gets 0.01% of this population as tourists every year, you will have 37,500 Indian tourists. On an average, even if each tourist spends only 1000 USD, Ukraine will earn 37.5 mln USD just from the tourism sector. This is a very small assumption, very small amount that we are assuming. And it is not happening, basically, because nobody wants to come to Ukrainian Embassy to get a visa because it is so troublesome. We, the Indian side, have given visas on arrival facilities to Ukrainian citizens for the last 1.5 year, that means you can apply online for a visa, get a printout of your application, travel with the paper and on arrival in India you get the visa at the airport with a normal visa fee. This option works for 30-day visas if you want more than that you have to come to the embassy and get a visa. But it helps a lot for those people, who want to visit the country as tourists. We are just looking for the reciprocal treatment in Ukraine. Similarly with the business people – why would any businessman stand in a line and come for an interview for getting just a visa for Ukraine, while he or she can get visa easily for many other countries. Ukraine realizes that India is a very strong market for its products and something needs to be done to be noticed. But first of all, we need to solve the issue regarding visas. We were promised the situation will be improved but it is getting too late, the later it happens the more opportunities we are missing.

UkraineAway: What other business sectors, apart from mentioned tourism, can get a new impetus after easing on visas?

Ambassador: If visa regime is eased out, there will be a huge backward and forward movement. Today, if Ukrainian company comes to India and wants to establish a joint venture or any other form of cooperation, it is a problem for the Indian businessmen to accept because of the general impression in the minds that going to Ukraine and doing something is very difficult.

UkraineAway: Sounds like a problem with Ukrainian image in India.

Ambassador: Absolutely, it is an image problem. I have mentioned about the tourism sector, and it is related. I wanted Indian films to be shot here because if an Indian film is shot in any country even for two-three minutes, millions of Indians see a new country and want to visit it. There are numerous examples: Istanbul (Turkey), South Africa, Mexico, New Zealand, where Indian tourism increased ten times within the period of five years only because Indian films were shot there. After the first one or two films, governments there start to give the incentive to film producers: “Please, come, shoot your films here”, because they have seen the effect of increasing tourism. This kind of facilities are given, for example, by a Swiss government to Indian film industry, they provide schedules, they provide all kind of help. There are even lakes in Interlaken (Switzerland – UaAway) which are named after the Indian film directors. And this is not happening in Ukraine and one of the main reasons is that people do not know that Ukraine is such a beautiful country and the second is that there is an image that Ukraine is a country tough to deal with, too many restrictions are there.

Journalist: Are there any other obstacles, except for visas ones, in Ukraine-India relations? For example, many foreign businessmen are complaining about corruption in Ukraine.

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Ambassador: One of the largest areas of export from India to Ukraine is pharmaceuticals and it is important also for Ukraine because I firmly believe that if Ukraine buys hundred dollars’ worth pharmaceuticals from India, it actually saves 300 USD. That is because if the same products are imported from Europe or the USA they will cost 400 USD. So you get good quality and much cheaper products from India. But pharmaceutical companies are facing a lot of harassment from establishments in Ukraine. There are running battles and something even has come to the press recently about a company called “Organosyn”, which has been fighting a case for the last 1.5 years. And it is very clear from the records of the things that have happened, that all this was basically created by some interested group who wanted to take ravage on this company for some personal reasons, and the establishments, police department and others were simply helping with that process. I would agree with a foreigners’ assessments – corruption is an area that needs some massive improvement. This will also help Ukraine in coming closer to the European Union; you can not avoid the fact of geographical proximity to Europe and today or tomorrow Ukraine will be accepted as a European Union country, that is a fact. But as I see from the EU reports, Ukraine has to take care of the level of corruption among other things, so it can come closer to the European norms.

UkraineAway: How is the situation with corruption in India? We heard about quite effective measures taken by the government, and maybe we can borrow some experience.

Ambassador: We are trying our best in this area, and the big gamble that our government has taken one and a half month ago was to demonetize big currency notes. We had the highest notes of Indian rupee of 500 and 1000. This constituted about 85% of all cash available in the market. Within the time of 4 hours, the Prime Minister announced that these currencies will be abolished, demonetized. These notes will not be valid anymore and people will have to operate with 50 and 100 notes, some window was given to change old notes, but it was very small. Those people, who had billions of rupees in these notes, got their money washed out. A Huge amount of black money, supposedly, went out of circulation. But despite these steps of the government, I would not say that corruption had been completely moved from the society, from the bureaucracy. We are still working on it and there is a long way to go.

UkraineAway: What experience can you share with us, what can you suggest?

Ambassador: You can see from the Indian experience as well, the corruption can be dealt with only if the political leadership has “the guts” to do it, if they take bold and innovative decisions honestly, only then corruption can be handled. In democracies like ours, Ukraine or India, corruption flows from the top. As soon as top political leadership decides that we will have no corruption or we will take steps against corruption and those steps are taken honestly, slowly this problem will be removed. But, as I said, the will at the top, honest will, is the first thing.

UkraineAway: Is corruption a problem in the Ukraine-India relationship?

Ambassador: It is in a very indirect fashion. Indian business community faces corruption here, primarily pharmaceutical, and one such example gets multiplied thousand times in India because he or she speaks about this in India to a large number of people. One incident creates a bad image of the country in a very large portion of India. From that perspective, I would say that corruption creates problems for building up bilateral relations.

UkraineAway: What steps do you take to protect your business here?

Ambassador: If we are convinced that an Indian company’s stand is justified, I visit different organizations, different state bodies, whether it is The Ministry of Home Affairs, the Police Department or the Prosecutor General, or The Ministry of Economy and Trade. I go personally and take up these matters at the top most level, whatever level is available to me, and at least familiarize them whatever is happening on this front and also drive this point that the potential of growth of relationship between India and Ukraine is being lost, because of these petty issues, and these petty issues should be handled sensitively, so we can walk forward and develop this relationship in a better fashion.

UkraineAway: And what about other potential difficulties, technical ones? Can the distance be a problem, for example, when we talk about tourism, as we now there is no direct flights between India and Ukraine?

Ambassador: I believe not. Till late 2013 there was a direct flight between Ukraine and India (Kyiv-Delhi) and duration was only about five and a half hours. From that perspective, if you’ll see, the distance is not very far. It was discontinued after troubles started here. But it is yet to start again, I was speaking to the Ukrainian airline and they are calculating the profit and risk margin, to decide when they can start. From the Indian side, I’m also trying to convince people that they should have at least 3 point connection: the flight that goes to Amsterdam can have a hold here, so it (Kyiv – UaAway) can be a transit connection. Odessa port and Western side ports of India are not really far. I believe that the distance can be only an excuse right now. We have something we call international North-South corridor – international trade corridor. The discussion started a couple of years ago, when relations with Russia and Ukraine were different, that route goes from Mumbai or Western parts of India to Iran then land transport to Azerbaijan and Russia. But now Ukraine has suggested an alternative link, so this route is reaching the Eastern side of a Black sea, from there it can cross over to Odessa and then to the European Union. We have discussed it in India and we have no objections to this kind of additional links. In my view, currently there is a problem because there is not much traffic, there’s not much incentive to start a new course, but this will not be for long, things will change.

UkraineAway: There are a lot of students in Ukraine from India. What are the perspectives of cooperation in this direction?

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Ambassador: Cooperation in education is a very prominent direction. There are about 6100 Indian students studying in Ukraine right now. But in my opinion, this number can increase at least 4-5 times. And, you know, these 6100 Indians almost on an average spend about 5 thousand USD per anima on tuition fee, so right now Ukraine is earning 30.5 mln USD just by providing education to Indians. And imagine if it increases five times – you are earning 150 mln USD and the potential is great because out of 1.25 bln of people 50% are less than the age of 25.

UkraineAway: And what can be done to improve the situation?

Ambassador: We are working on it. I have been telling everyone that the admission system, here, in Ukraine, is stuck in the old-fashioned soviet way: there is an agent, who knows some people in India, he brings students and only those people are getting admission. I say that the whole world has moved to online applications and online documentation. I am glad to say that in the last 1.5 years The Ministry of Education, with which we have been cooperating, has actually started to do it. Last summer a delegation from Ukraine went to India to do the negotiations and I would like to say that last year the biggest number of foreign applicants was from India, almost 2000 students.

UkraineAway: What specialties are most interesting among Indian students?

Ambassador: Mostly medical sciences. I am very sad to say that engineering faculties are not popular among Indian students. The level of your expertise here in this direction is impressive, I have visited Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, Kharkiv Aviation Institute, and many others – amazing places! But there are no Indian students or very few – one or two. There should be hundreds of students studying there.

UkraineAway: Finally, Mr. Ambassador, this year will be the 25th anniversary of Indian-Ukrainian relations, what are the plans for the celebrations?

Ukraine Away

Ambassador: There are a lot of things already planned. On January 26 we have our Republic Day and it will be the beginning of the celebrations. Throughout the year we will be having a number of workshops, seminars, cultural performances, and exhibitions. A lot of artists will be coming from India and will travel to different cities here. We are planning to bring some film festivals as well, as the first Indian film has been shot in Ukraine last year. We are going to show some Indians films in Ukraine, new ones that will be released the same day here as in India. Simultaneously, we are planning to have a trade delegation from India; there will be a number of intergovernmental meetings this year, exchanges at the foreign ministries’ level. So, both economic and cultural events and dialogs will take place this year.