Connect with us


Expanding relationship with India is one of our core foreign policies: Norway min



New Delhi: The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is hopeful of finalising a trade deal with India “within a few days or weeks” and the four-nation bloc has a “clear ambition” to sign the agreement before the country enters its election cycle, Norway’s deputy foreign minister Andreas Motzfeldt Kravik said on Thursday.

Norway’s deputy foreign minister Andreas Motzfeldt Kravik (Twitter Photo)

Against the backdrop of India reportedly seeking a commitment from EFTA, which comprises Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, to invest up to $100 billion in the next 15 years, Kravik declined to go into specifics but said the issue of specific targets for investments and possible ramifications, if such targets aren’t met, had come up in the negotiations.

HT launches Crick-it, a one stop destination to catch Cricket, anytime, anywhere. Explore now!

What are Norway’s priorities for the bilateral relationship with India?

We have a very strong relationship with India, a formidable country which is ascending and becoming more and more important on the global stage. For us, maintaining, advancing and expanding our relationship with India is one of our core foreign policy priorities. I hope people understand and know that for us, good relations with the Global South are critical and we see India as one of the leaders, if not the leader, of the Global South. We’re very adamant about maintaining close relations with India. That’s one of the reasons why we’re very happy we’re getting very close now to finalising the free trade agreement with India, which I think will consolidate our relationship and create parameters that will facilitate more mutual investments, more trade, more creative thinking, economic thinking in terms of green technology and green industries.

What are the tricky issues in negotiations for a trade deal between EFTA and India? How are you handling India’s call for a commitment to invest about $100 billion over a period of time in the Indian economy?

I’m not privy to all the conversations as I haven’t been part of the delegation. This is being led on our side by the minister of trade and I am in close contact with the minister. Those are some of the issues we’ve been attaching a lot of importance to. We’re still doing the final touches but the results, at least the tentative results, are very promising. As you highlighted, the investments and the targets are issues that have come up. Whether we should adhere to or have specific targets and [whether] there will be some sort of ramifications if we don’t meet those targets. I think what we’re looking at now is that there will have to be some sort of targets that we are bound to promote, which we think is a good compromise. Again, this is an agreement there’s a lot of appetite for in the Norwegian business community. When you couple that with the economic growth we’re seeing in India, close to 10% per year, I think we’re very confident in saying that we will reach those targets and that’s the reason companies are leaning in and want to play a constructive role. I met with some of the leading businesses in Norway just before travelling here and they were inquiring about this agreement, and they’re very eager to get started to get to the Indian market, which is very interesting for them. So, we’re very optimistic.

It’s difficult to talk about timeframes, but do you think the FTA is doable before India goes into its election cycle?

That’s our clear ambition. Of course, there are always things in flux and you never know exactly before we see it on paper. But we’re very hopeful and quite comfortable in saying that this will be finalised within a few days or weeks perhaps. But we’re very optimistic that we will have something tangible now in the coming days.

Is the green transition and the possibility of scaling up Norway’s technologies in India among the key areas you are looking at in the bilateral partnership?

That’s exactly right. I think our economies are complementary. I think there’s a high demand for lots of the know-how and technologies that we have here in India, We have lots of cutting-edge companies in Norway and there is high demand for those companies in India and we have a cultural know-how in terms of a strong history of collaboration. I think that’s something which is conducive to more interactions between our companies. When I consulted with our companies just a few days ago, they were making the exact point that the technology, know-how and expertise we have in Norway is something that is in high demand in India and we’re interested in enforcing it in the market with more intensity and to scale up their products. That’s something we want to help facilitate not just because we think it’s important for investment companies to make a profit, although as a Norwegian politician, that’s something we’re mandated to do and have an obligation to try to facilitate, but that’s something that is one of our foreign policy objectives and we need to make that transition. In order to make that transition, we have to have the full support of Norwegian and Indian companies that need to collaborate for that purpose. Then that’s something that we really want to try to facilitate.

Perhaps more than any other European country, Norway has been very invested in Afghanistan. How do you look at the situation in Afghanistan, given that you came to India after attending a key meeting in Doha?

We thought the report that came from the Special Coordinator in the UN was a good report and the recommendations were solid and robust, something that we support. There needs to be a [UN] special envoy appointed. I think one of the challenges that Afghanistan is now facing is that it’s easy for Afghanistan to recede on the international agenda in terms of priorities because you have Ukraine, Gaza, and the green transition that we need to facilitate. So, Afghanistan is something that is receding and our collective bandwidth is limited to a certain extent. That’s why I think a core task of a special envoy would be to travel to Oslo, Washington, Brussels, and New Delhi and remind countries about the importance of Afghanistan and why we need a stable Afghanistan at peace with itself, the region and the international community.

The meeting in Qatar was very important in that regard and we had a few tangible outcomes. I think one of them is that we need more dialogue between key countries and the UN. I think there will be another meeting in Qatar in the not-too-distant future and that was one of the takeaways. The UN Secretary-General was clear he intends to move forward on the issue of the special envoy. I think what needs to be done is for the UN to consult widely and extensively with key countries, including Norway, to find an individual with the necessary credibility and legitimacy, both with the international community but also with the de facto authorities in Afghanistan, and that’s something that we fully support.

We’ve said repeatedly there needs to be engagement with the Taliban and Norway has a special history in that regard for two reasons, one because you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Western government which has had more interactions with the Taliban over the course of the last few years than us and also we have a long tradition in terms of peace and reconciliation. We talk to people, movements, organisations, and individuals even if we have concerns with some of their ideologies or some of their actions. But we still think dialogue is important and we repeated this at the meeting. But we’ve said repeatedly there needs to be more engagement with the Taliban. Of course, in that engagement, we need to be very clear-eyed about their commitments to human rights, especially women’s rights and the rights of girls. We’ve been very concerned about some of the regressions that we’ve seen since the Taliban took over. One of the core messages we have been trying to convey is that even if we don’t see the necessary progress, that should not be a pretext for us to stop engaging because when you deal with movements like the Taliban, strategic patience is critical and you just have to keep being adamant. I hope to be able to travel to Kabul in the not-too-distant future and meet with them to convey our messages and hopefully, that will resonate. But I think it’s also important for the de facto authorities in Afghanistan to understand that this is an opportunity for them, there is a willingness on the part of the UN to look at potential normalisation if they are willing to show increased commitment to human rights, to international law but they’re not going to get that normalisation unless they accommodate some of the needs and priorities of the international community. So there needs to be some sort of a reciprocal relationship there.

Ahead of the second anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, it would appear the conflict in Gaza has shifted a lot of the attention of the world community. How much of a concern does Ukraine remain and what do you think of many countries in the Global South which have said this is something that Europe needs to take care of?

Ukraine is our first priority in terms of our security. Ukraine is for us an existential issue. We’ve had a blatant violation of the UN Charter and international law in terms of Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine. That’s not something that can stand and we’ve been very clear with our partners and friends in the Global South that this is not a regional topic. This is something that should concern all of us because territorial integrity and respect for the UN Charter is something that has to be at the centre of our collective foreign policy. But I think the global South, to a certain extent and with some legitimacy, has been concerned about this issue of double standards. There’s been more attention given to international law in the context of Ukraine-Russia, as opposed to other parts of the world. I think we’ve been relatively successful in being clear-eyed about that. International law is our yardstick and we have been very clear about Russia having violated fundamental international legal norms but we’ve said in order for us to be principled, we have to call out other transgressions of international law, and we’ve done exactly that in the context of Gaza. When we saw Hamas attack Israel, that was a blatant violation of international law, but also when Israel responded in a way that we don’t think comports with basic principles of humanitarian law and basic legal principles. We’ve been very clear in saying that’s just not something we can tolerate. So there needs to be a unified, clear, principled approach to these various conflicts. That’s where when I meet with my partners from the Global South, I say to them that we are extremely concerned about Gaza and the transgressions of international law perpetrated by Israel. We are fully aligned there, but there also needs to be concerned on your part with what Russia has done in Ukraine. That can’t be a regional issue just as much as what’s happening in the Gaza Strip is not a regional issue for the Middle East. It’s something that concerns all of us. That’s a sort of cornerstone for us when we engage other countries.

India and Norway have tremendous stakes in merchant shipping, which drives trade and commerce. Do you think European countries like Norway can do more with India in view of what is happening in the Red Sea?

That’s an excellent question. I think what’s happening in the Red Sea is extremely concerning and we’ve been saying very clearly this is not something the international community can tolerate. We’re part of this coalition of states that is engaging in Prosperity Guardian. Norwegian vessels have been targeted for no legitimate reasons and this is a clear violation of international law. International law is our yardstick and enables us to be very clear-eyed about these things. India also has a stake in this because you have Indian vessels and Indian crew on lots of these vessels.

This is something the prime minister has discussed with his counterpart from India and also the foreign minister discussed this with his Indian counterpart. I think India has a role to play and I think India has also been relatively clear about this. Now the question is how do you approach the Houthis? Because from their vantage point, at least to a certain extent, this has been a good thing for them because they’re gaining credibility, and legitimacy and are now an actor on the global stage. How can we interact with those tendencies and those incentive structures? We haven’t been part of the military coalition that targeted the Houthis, not because we don’t share the objectives, but because we think another approach might be equally important. For us what’s critical is that if there’s a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, which we think will materialize in the not-too-distant future, then there needs to be a cessation of hostilities in the Red Sea and the Houthis need to declare that publicly. Any attack by the Houthis is unacceptable, but at least if we are able to manage the conflict in the Gaza Strip that needs to also have an impact on their operations. We have a discrete dialogue with the Houthis where we try to impress upon them that they really need to rethink. There’s also a process with the Houthis, Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni government and that also needs to go forward.

Continue Reading