India, Belgium agree to deepen economic ties

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Brussels, October 3:  President Pranab Mukherjee had a very “fruitful” meeting here on Thursday with Belgium Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo at which the two countries decided to deepen their already strong economic engagement in critical infrastructure, nuclear energy, Information Technology and higher education.

A strong delegation led by the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister will visit India to follow up on a number of initiatives that Mr. Mukherjee discussed with Mr. Elio Di Rupo. This is significant at a time when India is trying to attract more investments in infrastructure to deal with its somewhat weak external sector situation.

Speaking to visiting mediapersons here, P.S. Raghavan, Special Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, said Belgium accorded the highest priority to economic and political engagement with India and this was demonstrated amply by the gesture of King Phillipe, who received Mr. Mukherjee at the tarmac of the airport, something the King does not do normally as per protocol.

Mr. Raghavan said the Belgian royalty had a special connect with India and the previous King Albert visited India for 12 days in 2008. In the intervening years, Belgian authorities and royalty came to India leading several delegations including big business teams. At present, about 160 Belgian companies have invested in India. The total two-way trade, dominated by diamonds, stands at 12 billion euros. The next phase of big engagement could be potentially in the services sector such as infrastructure, education, railways and nuclear waste management.

At his meeting with Mr. Mukherjee, Mr. Elio Di Rupo reiterated his government’s commitment to India’s case for a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council.

NSG concession

India’s Ambassador to Belgium and the European Union Dinkar Khullar said the Belgian royalty played a big role as a unifying influence in the highly fragmented coalition politics in this country which took two years to stitch up a somewhat stable coalition arrangement a few years ago. It was the King who took the initiative which led to the government agreeing to extend India the much needed concession in the Nuclear Suppliers Group after it signed the civil nuclear deal with the United States. Belgian companies were now actively scouting for business in nuclear waste management in which they had great expertise, Mr. Khullar said. “Belgium punches above its weight in EU because of Brussels being its capital,” he added.

Mr. Mukherjee also focused on signing MoUs between the key Belgian universities and their Indian counterparts such as JNU, Delhi; the University of Delhi and Hyderabad University to collaborate on improving India’s research capabilities in cutting-edge areas such as molecular biology.

Informed sources said the President had been interacting intensively with various universities back in India to see how research capabilities there could be enhanced through global collaborations so that it did not lag in filing patent applications worldwide.

The President is accompanied by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Delhi, among others.

The delegation accompanying the President discussed with Belgian counterparts ways of taking expertise of port companies in Brussels which have capabilities in developing the infrastructure for riverine ports located at a distance from the sea coast. There is scope for developing such a port in Kolkata. Many Belgian companies are interested in this project.

The President will officially open the Europalia cultural festival, held in Brussels every two years to showcase the cultural heritage of one country. India happens to be the theme of Europalia this year. The best of Indian folk tradition and other aspects of diverse art and crafts will be on display over several months. Interestingly, the India show will follow that of Russia, China and Brazil held in the previous festival and this shows the EU accords much importance to the BRICS project too.

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