Koenders visits India to expand ties with one of the world’s fastest-growing economies

Foreign minister Bert Koenders has visited India in order to strengthen political and economic ties with the South Asian country. India, with its population of 1.3 billion people, is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. It is expected to become the world’s third-largest economy by 2030. Mr Koenders visited the state of Kerala and the cities of Bangalore and New Delhi. During his time in the capital he met with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj.

The Netherlands has maintained diplomatic relations with India for 70 years, from the moment the country gained its independence. Trade ties between the two countries go back 400 years. ‘India offers lots of opportunities for Dutch businesses,’ said Mr Koenders.

Conversely, for Indian businesses the Netherlands is a crucial point of access to Europe. With a view to giving economic cooperation between both countries an extra boost, Mr Koenders confirmed that the Netherlands will open a new consulate-general in Bangalore, which will initially serve as a trade office. The Netherlands chose the city due to its significant potential in the areas of trade and investment, innovation and education. ‘We want to do business in the city that’s nicknamed “India’s Silicon Valley”,’ remarked the minister. From October, it will be possible to fly to Bangalore – a city with a population of several million – direct from Amsterdam.

One of the overarching themes of this visit was the partnership between both countries when it comes to creating a clean environment for the Indian people. In this spirit, the minister visited a Dutch-run waste processing plant in Bangalore, announced that the Smog Free Tower (a sort of gigantic vacuum cleaner that sucks up pollution) will come to India, and visited a Dutch water treatment project centring on Delhi’s Barapullah Drain. ‘Dutch innovative technologies, combined with a local, Indian approach, are helping to clean up land, sea and air,’ he said.

Thanks to Dutch technology, three times as much waste is being processed as before. The Dutch company behind the plant wants to expand its successful approach to the rest of Bangalore. While there, the minister even rolled up his sleeves and helped sort rubbish on a conveyor belt, lending his support to the nationwide campaign ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ (Clean India Movement) launched by prime minister Narendra Modi. The campaign has prompted millions of volunteers and civil servants to work to ensure a cleaner, healthier environment. In this same vein, Mr Koenders presented India’s Minister of Science and Technology, Harsh Vardhan, with a pair of cufflinks made from compressed smog collected by the Smog Free Tower; the symbolic equivalent of donating 1,000 cubic metres of clean air. It is hoped that the tower will dramatically improve air quality in urban parks.

During his time in Bangalore the minister also spoke to representatives of the state government about a range of issues, including cooperation in the areas of water management, agriculture and healthcare. He also discussed several causes for concern, such as the rapid increase in road traffic in relation to inclusive economic growth.

Meeting in New Delhi, Mr Koenders and Ms Swaraj discussed a range of issues, including Brexit and cooperation on security. ‘India is hosting the next Global Conference on CyberSpace, taking over from the Netherlands, which hosted it in 2015,’ Mr Koenders commented. ‘The country has over 450 million internet users. That makes cybersecurity vital to the Indian economy. Nuclear security and non-proliferation are also areas in which our two countries are working together.’ Mr Koenders also raised the issues of human rights and the work of civil society organisations. India has recently taken significant steps forward in this regard by signing two International Labor Organization conventions. ‘These conventions are vital for tackling child labour,’ he said.

In addition, Mr Koenders and Ms Swaraj discussed the case of three-year-old Insiya, who was abducted from the Netherlands and is now in India. ‘I felt it was vital that my counterpart and I discuss this complex case in person. I’ve made my desire for a solution very clear,’ commented Mr Koenders. The minister shared the petition launched by Insiya’s mother with Ms Swaraj and stressed the need for cooperation within the framework of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Various legal proceedings are underway in this case, and they will most probably take a long time. In the meantime, Mr Koenders is doing his utmost to ensure that the mother and child can see each other. ‘Every day that a child is kept separated from one of its parents is a day too many.’ The Indian and Dutch authorities have pledged continued cooperation on this matter.

For some time now, consultations with both parents have been taking place through the consulate-general in Mumbai and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague. ‘In the interests of the case, I don’t want to say too much,’ said the minister. ‘But let us hope that a solution that has Insiya’s best interests at heart will be found quickly.’

Ministry responsible