On May 31, Sweden will have the great honour and pleasure of welcoming President Pranab Mukherjee, on the first ever state visit by an Indian President to Sweden. This historic visit offers a unique opportunity to deepen our long-standing relationship.
Swedish companies began investing in India in the early 1920s, laying the foundations for the prosperous partnership between our business communities that is still enjoyed today. Formal diplomatic relations between India and Sweden were established as early as 1948. Alva Myrdal, Sweden’s first ambassador to India and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982 for her promotion of nuclear disarmament in the United Nations, often claimed to be fired by the ideals of social justice and pacifism held by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Similarly, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Action Plan for Ushering in a nuclear weapon-free and non-violent world order sprang from years of close collaboration with Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. India and Sweden also share rich democratic traditions. As the largest democracy in the world, India is a source of inspiration. The principles of democracy rest on human rights — the idea that by virtue of being human, we share the same rights and freedoms. Our two countries are both engaged in actively promoting and safeguarding these principles.
Women’s full enjoyment of human rights is a top priority for Sweden, domestically as well as globally. Rather than perceiving gender equality merely as a goal in itself, we regard equality to be a prerequisite for achieving our wider foreign and security policy objectives. Sweden’s feminist foreign policy aims to respond to one of the greatest unresolved problems of our time, namely that the human rights of women and girls are still being violated in so many ways around the world. Human rights are women’s rights. Progress in empowering women and women’s representation and rights benefits society as a whole. It is my firm belief that India and Sweden can work together as partners to find ways of addressing this critical challenge, both bilaterally and multilaterally.
Trade and investment
Bilateral trade between India and Sweden has increased remarkably over the last few years. Today, more than 150 Swedish companies are established in India, and one new company is estimated to be registered every month. These companies provide employment — directly and indirectly for almost 7,50,000 people in India. As a nation heavily dependent on exports, Sweden regards free trade as a driver of economic growth, but not at the expense of people or the planet. For this reason, my government works actively to bring about progressive international trade agreements that dismantle trade barriers and, at the same time, we promote corporate social responsibility to protect the rights of employees and the environment.
As one of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world, India is increasingly attractive to foreign investors. Major reform programmes launched by the government of India, such as Make in India, Smart Cities and Digital India, send a clear message to the world: India is open for business and investments.
In the last few years, Sweden and India have signed a long list of agreements in areas such as science and technology, health, environment and renewable energy. I am truly impressed and encouraged by the broad range of relations between our two countries and I believe there is great scope for enhanced collaboration.
Addressing the issue of rapid urbanisation, the Indian government has set out to build 100 smart and sustainable cities. This initiative offers a great opportunity for cooperation between our two countries. Sweden is a world leader in business solutions and innovation in green technology, energy and logistics. Investments in the rapidly growing sector of sustainable urban development are critical for the global environment and the climate challenge that we face — common challenges that our countries must tackle together.
In September 2014, during his first address to the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Modi spoke with conviction about an “unwavering belief in multilateralism” deeply rooted in Indian society. Sweden shares India’s strong commitment to promote global cooperation within the framework of the United Nations.
The United Nations is the heart of global dialogue. It was founded 70 years ago on the belief that nations of the world can meet collective challenges only by working together. And in today’s increasingly uncertain world, effective multilateralism — with the UN at its core — is perhaps more important than ever. Strong support for the United Nations has always been — and will always be — key to Sweden’s foreign policy.
Our efforts to internationalise global challenges have proven influential in the past. The attendance of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972 became a milestone in global environmental cooperation. Looking ahead towards the upcoming Paris Climate Conference in December, it is significant that equitable and sustainable development, as defined in Stockholm over 40 years ago, is now at the top of the agenda. We must continue to push for a resolute international agreement addressing climate change. Our collaboration in this area is of great importance to my government. President Mukherjee’s visit to Sweden represents a new landmark in the excellent and long-standing relationship between our countries. As Indo-Swedish relations continue to evolve, our two countries should commit to joint efforts that reflect the shared values at the heart of our strong relationship.
(Margot Wallström is Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sweden.)
Keywords: World View, India-Sweden relations, Minister for Foreign Affairs