The State Visit by the Honourable President of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee along with an enormous business entourage was a momentous episode in the history of Norway-India business relations indeed! And, now that a couple of weeks have passed, we take this opportunity to gather our thoughts and ponder a little upon the underlying fundamentals of the visit: the expectations, the challenges and the way forward from here.
And, to put things on the table right before you, we had an opportunity to have a conversation with Rohit Sharma, the Joint Director and Head of Europe &Turkey of one of the apex business organizations in India, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) during the Presidential visit in Oslo. So, here’s a quick snapshot of the interview with him.
What are your expectations from this event?
Nordic countries, especially Norway holds immense promise not only in terms of investable funds, but also for their technical prowess across sectors. This holds the key for enhancing trade and economic relations between India and the country. At the same time, people to people interaction will plough the field for further deepening of the economic relations between the two countries. Indian businesses need to understand Norway and what it holds. And, Norwegians need to understand what India is all about and how to go about doing business in India. Practical understanding from our past experiences indicate that this part has not been taken care of when it comes to our relations with Norway.
This Presidential visit with such a large business delegation from India is the first such opportunity to create platforms for people to people interaction, co-operation and collaboration to materialize. It is of utmost importance in terms of letting the Norwegians know what India is and what it offers to foreign businesses.
We have been informed that 130 Norwegian companies are operating out of India. That’s a very sizable number given the fact that the country has a population of just 5 million. But, I believe, Norwegians can do much more. Because, they have very streamlined thought processes and their strategic approach towards doing business is well known.
In the past, we have had a few challenges in India-Norway business relations. Do you think, this significant Presidential visit will make some headway?
Yes, absolutely, the beginning has been made. But, the challenges remain. The biggest fact is that a lot of Norwegian investments do not have a sovereign rating, they do not go about investing their money. So, despite the fact that a lot of international companies might have very sound balance sheets, they still need a sovereign rating. But, the better part is that we have a new government in Delhi which is very business friendly and is focused on the simplification of rules and regulations of investments and trade promotions. It is inviting foreign businesses to do business in the country and making India the hub for reaching out to other countries in the region and beyond. This is something which is going to be a continued, sustained and systematic process in the next coming years.
In what ways can Norwegian businesses benefit in the current situation?
Ideally Norwegian companies can benefit from these encouraging trends which are emerging out of India. And, being a representative from the apex business industry association in India, we remain committed to extend the needed support to the process too. Currently, one very important organization that FICCI, in partnership with Ministry of Commerce, Government of India has come up with is ‘Invest India. Its primary mandate is to facilitate foreign investments into India. Along with this, they have a very effective system of addressing all the queries being made from all over the world. So, this is a very credible institution which is created and we have been urging all the foreign investors and businesses to ideally utilize this. So, it has to be a multi-layered, multi-pronged approach involving two-three very specific relevant agencies in that process and get the things going.
As of now, what are the main challenges you would like to emphasize on?
Challenges are certainly about making Indian companies understand what Norway holds and vice versa. And, specially, despite the fact that a lot of IT companies and services companies are expecting a lot from this region, not just Norway, but the entire Nordic region, the policy remains a major issue: the expectations and the work permits because of which a lot of Indian companies find it so difficult to let their staff travel. And, yes, the language barrier certainly remains a point of operational concern. But, we are hopeful at the same time that a lot of Norwegians do speak English. And, likewise, in relation to India, the strict adherence to official formalities which take a long time is an area to ponder on. But, the simplification of these laws have begun, ‘red-tapism’ and the kind of practices that were expected to be undertaken in India, that process is going to be simplified in the coming years.
In Norway, yes, at least at the entry point, the very fact that a lot of Indian professionals are unable to travel because of the VISA issues.
So, what is the issue with the VISA? Are there difficulties in that area?
Yes, and that too, the kind of procedure and those documents that are expected to be presented makes it a tedious task to get Schengen visa to travel to Norway. But, we have been informed that the Indian Embassy in Norway does the same. But, hopefully, with the new government, our Prime Minister has already indicated that he is majorly going to simplify the process. Granting VISAs on arrival, our President has already announced that Norway will soon feature in the list of a few countries whose nationals can get Visa on Arrival (VoA) facility in India. Besides, people of Indian origin are going to get a life-long VISA to travel to India. That notification has already been sent across from the government, all PIOs have a permanent VISA for their rest of their lives. So, they don’t have to worry about coming back to their roots. It has been simplified, the process had begun and it will soon be implemented.
Thank you so much Rohit!
Written by: Sudipa Chakraborty