Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is on a visit to India to set the tone for five planned meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin in 2020, including at the 20th edition of the bilateral annual summit. In an interview to Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, he said India and Russia are vigorously working to conclude an agreement on mutual protection of investments from unilateral sanctions by the United States.
What are India and Russia’s joint plans to protect trade and investment including defence purchases from unilateral sanctions?
Against the background of the increasingly aggressive use of financial sanctions by the US administration, Russian policy is aimed at gradual de-dollarisation of the economy. Together with our main partners, including India, we are working on developing economic and legal mechanisms to reduce the negative impact of restrictions on bilateral trade and investment ties. Expanding settlements in national currencies is one of our priorities. Relevant intergovernmental agreements on settlements and payments were concluded with China and Turkey last June and October. We consider that de-pegging from the dollar in mutual settlements is an objective response to the unpredictability of the US economic policy and the outright abuse by Washington of the dollar’s status as a world reserve currency. Currently, New Delhi and Moscow are vigorously working to prepare a new intergovernmental agreement on mutual protection of investments, which will increase investor protection for both sides. The agreement on a free trade zone between the Eurasian Economic Union and India, which is currently being negotiated, should also contribute to this.
What is the focus of your India visit? What are the factors determining the strategic partnership in 2020?
This is a special year for our countries. Twenty years ago, India and Russia signed the Declaration on Strategic Partnership. Expanding relations with Delhi is among our absolute foreign policy priorities. I am pleased to state that the India-Russia relations are characterised by self-sufficiency, not being subject to the influence of “ever changing foreign policy winds”. And this is vividly reflected in regular leaders’ meetings and increasing contacts at all levels. Further strengthening of our multi-faceted cooperation is in line with the task of enhancing international and regional security and stability. I am convinced that our Indian friends share similar logic. During this visit, we plan to discuss issues on bilateral agenda, primarily taking into account the results of the Indian-Russian summit that was held last September in Vladivostok. The discussions will be mainly focused on means to increase trade and economic cooperation, which is the foundation for expanding Indian-Russian partnership. Certainly, we are interested in a constructive exchange of views on the key issues of our time. I also plan to take part in the Raisina Dialogue.
India is interested in foreign investments, including from Russia, for implementing the Make in India programme. What could attract Russian entrepreneurs?
Expanding investment cooperation is essential for development of bilateral relations. This topic has traditionally been one of the central issues on the agenda of the Indian-Russian negotiations, including at the highest level. A broad range of coordination mechanisms is at our disposal, allowing for customisation of individual parameters of our interaction taking into account the traditionally close cooperation between our countries. Paying heed to the wishes of the business community, we seek to create the most favourable environment enabling Russian businesses to enter the Indian market. We are confident that our Indian partners intend to do the same. Russian companies are ready to actively participate in the Make in India programme. They certainly have a stake in the harmonisation and optimisation of the import and export procedures, as well as facilitation and standardisation of technical, sanitary and phytosanitary requirements. Yet, India’s asymmetrical tax treatment for foreign business as compared to the regime enjoyed by Indian entrepreneurs in Russia remains the sticking point. Consultations on the removal of trade barriers are underway to make our domestic-markets more attractive for mutual investments. Shifting focus from commodities to high value-added products is taking priority.