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EAM’s Remarks at Ambrosetti Forum

September 04, 2020

  • It is a great pleasure to join you all this afternoon in India and this morning in Italy. This session is devoted to the world after the Covid-19 pandemic. Let me address how we are coping with life after the virus from an Indian perspective.
  • And I will begin that with what we have done and are still doing in India. To date, we have recorded 3.9 million cases in India. Through early travel restrictions and lockdowns, we gained valuable time to respond. A country where personal protection equipment was not being made today has 109 manufacturers. N-95 masks were being made earlier by two companies; now by ten. 25 enterprises are currently producing ventilators, there were none before. Our production of medicines – especially hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol – was massively ramped up. More than 17,000 dedicated Covid facilities were set up with 1.6 million isolation beds. 1.1 million people are being tested daily in almost 7000 centres. Digital tools are being used extensively for contact tracing. What this meant for India was that more than three of every four infected have recovered. And fatalities have stayed at one-and-a-half out of hundred and should come down even more. We are not only taking care of our own; medical supplies were sent to a 150 nations, many of them as grants to the developing world. This is the report card for one-sixth of humanity.
  • Travel is among the sectors of human activity most affected by the pandemic. But the immediate requirement this summer has been the return of people home from wherever they were. And the scale of the challenge really underlines how globalized we all really are. About 1.3 million Indians were repatriated through special flights and by land and sea. And from India, more than a 100,000 foreigners went back to 113 countries. All of this was made possible even in these difficult conditions by the exceptional efforts of those involved. I stress this to bring out the demands that would arise as the world moves back to normalcy, as it surely will one day. And we can hasten that process by encouraging greater global cooperation on standardized procedures, whether on testing and acceptance of test results, on quarantine procedures or on movement and transit protocols. These were among the proposals we tabled yesterday at the G-20 Meeting of Foreign Ministers.
  • How is the post-Covid world different? Some of it will obviously be in our lifestyle and mindset. Almost universally, we will all be very much more digitized than before. Whether the more affluent who are working and shopping more digitally or the more vulnerable for whom this has been literally a lifeline, none of us are unaffected. A second big change will be the different expectations that people will have of their governance systems. This pandemic has highlighted the need for health security in the most dramatic way. It has also brought out the importance of resilient and reliable supply chains that can be depended on, even in times of crisis. Strategic autonomy has come to have a new meaning. Where collective economic prospects are concerned, each society will obviously respond in line with its national strategy. As for India, that means a focus on an employment-centric economic recovery. Indeed, the combination of these factors has contributed to the call for an Atmanirbhar Bharat, a more self-reliant India.
  • Traumatic though the pandemic has been, we would be less than honest if we did not recognize that the world was in trouble even before that. Globalization was under visible stress for the differential benefits it generated, both between nations and within them. It therefore cannot be that the impact of a pandemic of this proportion would be absorbed easily by the world. Nor indeed, should it be because there are lessons to be learnt and corrections to be instituted. A starting point is our very understanding of globalization; it is an indivisibility of existence, not an aggregate of transactions. And if it has to work well, it must be a genuine partnership among nations, not the imposition of the interests of a few on the rest. Such beliefs would naturally be tested most in the domains of trade, technology, connectivity and other livelihood activities.
  • A corollary to a better appreciation of globalization should also be a greater commitment to multilateralism. And there again, we need to get the fundamentals right. If global decision making leaves out the most populous countries and many continents, this can only be at the cost of its credibility. And sadly, the pandemic brought out the lack of leadership when the world was being tested. The need of the day, therefore, is to encourage greater contributions to global good, whether it is in creating vaccines, combating climate change or promoting security. This is not only the right thing to do; it is the only sensible course of action. And to do that, global institutions need to be reformed, starting from the United Nations and its Security Council to the WHO. Reformed multilateralism must therefore become our mantra.
  • More than a decade ago, the world confronted a financial crisis of truly global proportions. It affected Europe particularly severely, even if it impacted others. In many ways, this is a challenge of a far greater magnitude, requiring more sweeping changes. Many of those will be technology driven, digitally friendly and inevitably greener. Europe will surely have a more salient place in that scenario and consequently, a partner of greater importance to countries like India. After all, we too will be in a parallel search for solutions. Clearly, different livelihood options and economic tools will require more contemporary forms of cooperation. Certainly, trusted talent and shared creativity are going to be even stronger drivers of the knowledge economy. That prospect will inevitably shape our respective approaches to international relations.
  • India is today engaged in what can only be described as an exercise of comprehensive change and reform. This ranges from healthcare, housing, infrastructure and water to education, skills and social benefits. This is supported by a series of initiatives that promote ease of living, digital capabilities and making it easier to do business. In this quest for progress and modernity, we naturally look for global cooperation that are based on similar values and principles. The expectations from an India-EU partnership have always been high; the post-Covid world only makes its case even more compelling.
New Delhi
September 04, 2020


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