The next round of political consultations between the Foreign Ministries of Belarus and India will take place in Minsk on November 1st, following a three-year break caused, among other things, by COVID restrictions. This event is a good occasion to make sure our countries are on the same page and to ponder over the features and future of their bilateral relationship.
The diplomatic relations between Belarus and India were established in 1992 – next April, we will mark the 30th anniversary.
Belarus’ President A. Lukashenko made three state visits to India in 1997, 2007 and 2017. In 2015, the President of India Pranab Mukherjee paid the first visit to Belarus in the history of bilateral relations. A. Lukashenko met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the margins of meetings of the SCO Council of Heads of State in Tashkent (2016), Qingdao (2018) and Bishkek (2019).
The Belarusian Prime Ministers visited India in 1993, 2002 and 2012, the Foreign Ministers in 1998, 2002, 2007 and 2015. In 2019 in New York, and in 2021 in Dushanbe, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei met with his counterpart Dr. S. Jaishankar.
The inter-parliamentary dialogue is dynamically advancing, including at the level of international organisations. Since 1997, the Belarusian-Indian Intergovernmental Commission on economic, trade, industrial, scientific, technological and cultural cooperation has been operating.
Indian Potash Ltd. is a leading partner in the supply of potash fertilisers, which form the basis of Belarusian exports to India. Cooperation with Coal India, a large state-owned Indian company in the mining sector, is evolving. In 2020-2021, Belarus supplied to India 136-ton truck-dumpers. Agreements have also been reached on the supply of 240-ton machines in 2021-2023. In 2017, JSC “Gomselmash” and “DVR Infratech Private Limited” created a joint venture in India “Gomselmash India Private Limited”. In 2021, MTZ resumed the supply of tractors to India. In 2017-2018, RUE “Belorusneft” successfully implemented two joint projects in the field of enhanced oil recovery at Digboi and Chabua fields in Assam state. In 2020, a similar contract was signed with the largest Indian oil and gas company Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).
Contacts in the humanitarian sphere are developing progressively. Links between travel companies are being reinvigorated. A supranational investment agreement entered into force in 2020. In the same year, the first Belarusian-Indian Investment Forum was held in New Delhi.
Taking into account the gradual shift of the global geopolitical and geo-economic center of gravity to Asia, cooperation with India creates additional opportunities for international trade and investment. A boost to India’s economy is inevitable, and a substantial breakthrough in India’s development is yet to come, although the COVID-19 pandemic still hampers its growth.
Belarus needs several footholds in Asia diversified by geographical subregions. India could become one of such pillars in South Asia, but Belarusian initiatives should definitely fall into the “matrix” of India’s national interests and sacred meanings.
But Minsk does not yet understand the Indian specifics. The daily routine and inertia of Euro-centricity creates a lack of knowledge at the cultural and civilisational level. Belarus needs deep expertise in India’s history, religion, culture and languages, specifics of business practices, manner and culture of doing business. It’s not so much the frequency of contacts or “personal chemistry” between top officials of the two states, but rather the unwillingness of businesses to consider the medium- and long-term opportunities, as well as lack of mutual perception at the level of elites and expert communities.
Breakthrough projects are needed to give a new impetus to bilateral relations in order to convert the solid political and diplomatic track record into trade, economic and investment benefits. Hidden opportunities are seen in the sphere of high-tech solutions, to which India attaches great importance.
The potential of cooperation in the field of education has not been fully reached (except for the medical field), especially in mathematics and computer science, science and technology. Electric transport is seen as a promising area of cooperation, taking into account India’s decisions to convert 2- and 3-wheeled vehicles to electric traction by 2025. In addition to the supply of Belarusian equipment, the turnkey package of services can be supplemented with the training of professional personnel.
There are also certain hidden reserves for cooperation in the field of cybersecurity. The Republic of Belarus may become an “entry point” for Indian pharmaceutical companies to the Eurasian market. A joint project “Akadempharm” of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and CIPLA company and opening of the Dr. Y.K. Hamied Scientific and Technological Center within its framework could mark a good start in this area.
The potential of military and technical cooperation, including shared developments, has not been fully disclosed. Cinema (Bollywood) could stimulate the interest of the Indian business community and tourists. This issue can be addressed along with the overdue opening of a direct Minsk-Delhi flight. An additional increase in the export of tourism and medical services could be ensured by recreational centers to be established in Belarus based on Indian traditional medicine models (Ayurveda + Yoga), also in light of personal attention to this topic from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Particularly promising is the work at the level of specific regions, which, as a rule, have their own economic development program. Thus, successful companies target the markets of each state instead of developing a “strategy for India”. Therefore, the organisation of a permanent forum of the regions of Belarus and India seems to be a good idea.
Given the scale of India’s territory, it is advisable to build bilateral cooperation on the basis of regional cooperation and a local community cooperation strategy. Such an approach would increase the mobility and flexibility of the national presence in the dynamically changing economic space of this country.
This strategy is aligned to joint development of knowledge products in the field of ecology and agriculture. The cross-cutting themes of creating river purification systems, waste processing plants with electricity, heat and hydrogen production, the development of green energy and the economy, production of environmentally friendly products, as well as supply of fuel briquettes for the purposes of “Antim Sanskar” need an in-depth analysis.
Besides urban planning and appropriate infrastructure projects could be a very promising area of cooperation.
To increase mutual interest, establishing new innovative growth points and encouraging breakthrough ideas and active expert diplomacy communication is of prime importance. The drivers of bilateral cooperation could be the interaction of the leading “think tanks” of Belarus and India.
In this context, it is appropriate to recall the Indian guru Sri Ravi Shankar. In one of his speeches, he noted that governments cannot solve all issues. Consolidating the entire society—business, independent civic organisations and, in fact, public institutions—is essential in this respect.
As elsewhere in Asia, working with India is, indeed, a challenging task. The regional specifics; cultural, demographic, linguistic and religious characteristics; food habits and income levels of the population, the subtleties of changing legislation and many other things should be taken into account.
But it is impossible to imagine the future world order without India’s significant geopolitical, economic and cultural role. Therefore, it is pivotal to raise awareness of how to do successful business with India.