My dear Ministerial colleagues,
The CII leadership,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is a matter of great pleasure to be addressing the inaugural session of the First Edition of the Indo-Pacific Business Summit. I commend the CII that, in partnership with the Ministry of External Affairs, they have laid the foundation of a very promising platform.
2. As many of you are aware, the Indo-Pacific represents a return of history. A seamless and integrated space was disconnected decades ago by the strategy of the day. Today, as many Indian Ocean economies trade further east and as Pacific ones too have displayed a presence south and westwards, we are quite sensibly seeing the landscape for what it really is. Indo-Pacific reflects the reality of globalization, the emergence of multi-polarity and the benefits of rebalancing. It means the overcoming of the Cold War and a rejection of bipolarity and dominance. Most of all, it is an expression of our collective interest in promoting global prosperity and securing the global commons. The Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative advanced by India clearly validates this assertion. As we speak of common good and common efforts, it is natural that this is addressed, amongst other means, through a business summit. So once again, I am so glad to welcome you all to it.
3. The transformation of the last decade is today over-shadowed, unfortunately, by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has disrupted our supply chains, negatively impacted manufacturing, made international trade unpredictable and ruined many services sectors. Globalized production networks remain vulnerable and fragile, with global merchandise trade falling by 5.6% in 2020, compared to 2019 and the predicted trade in services declining by as much as 15.4% in the same duration. This decline in merchandise trade is the sharpest since 2009, whereas the decline in services trade is the biggest since 1990. The hit taken by travel, transport and tourism activities is alarming and really moves us into unchartered territory.
4. Even as we each plan our national and collective recovery in these difficult circumstances, there are three issues that the pandemic has brought to the fore: 1. The salience of health, 2. The power of the digital, and 3. The importance of building or re-building greener.
5. Covid-19 had brought out many inadequacies in the global health system and the resulting debates are taking place elsewhere. What is relevant for us here is to recognize that in every society, the expectation of our public with regard to health has gone up. This is particularly so in developing countries, including India. Whether it is the next wave, the next pandemic or indeed something quite different, part of the answer lies in greater international collaboration. By that I mean the working together not just of Governments, but of businesses and the medical and scientific professions.
6. Prime Minister Modi has called for adopting a ‘One-Earth-One-Health’ approach at the recent G7 Summit where India was a guest. We need meaningful partnerships, sharing of advanced technologies, collaboration in vaccine and pharmaceutical production, capacity building and transparency in health information. And in all of this, the role of our private sectors is critical.
7. The compulsions of the Covid era have all made us much more digital. This may be literal in terms of contact tracing and vaccination registration; facilitative in terms of home delivery and virtual calls; or just a lifestyle, in case of Work From Home. New opportunities and efficiencies have been discovered in that process. And accordingly, the risks too have magnified.
8. High-speed internet, cyber security, enhanced digital literacy, deeper technical cooperation, regional e-commerce, and efficient e-governance will have a more salient place in the conversations in the coming days. The strengthening of digital connectivity both within and between the countries of the Indo-Pacific is an essential condition for our economic prosperity and development. Like minded countries must work together for data driven digital development partnerships. The templates of that could draw on the framework that govern existing development partnerships.
9. The Covid may have slowed the building of the global economy and the promotion of economic recovery; it has obviously not stopped it. This is, therefore, an occasion to reflect, perhaps introspect on how to build greener. Many of us have national programmes to that end and collaborating more closely is obviously to our mutual benefit. Our collective efforts can certainly re-define the quality of infrastructure and indeed the nature of urbanization. They can make agriculture more sustainable and harness the Blue Economy more seriously. Physical and digital connectivity remain important for supporting shorter, efficient and diversified supply-chains, risk mitigation, enhanced trade facilitation, and reduction in the costs of intra-regional trade.
10. In this context, let me share with all of you, briefly how we, in India, are responding to the challenges of recovery and re-building. We have reformed even as we have rebuilt. On health, our programme of wider health coverage has been accelerated by the rapid expansion last year of the health infrastructure. Currently, mass vaccination and addressing the ongoing wave are the focus. But the goal is to transform the sector entirely by augmenting human resources, equipment and capacities. On the digital side, the expansion of connectivity, a skills initiative and a start-up culture are helping to change the game. On infrastructure, a range of initiatives and reforms that are unfolding even as we speak will surely spur greater investment. On agriculture, empowering farmers and enabling freer trade has been matched by a stronger commitment to post-harvest infrastructure. And across 13 key sectors, performance-linked initiatives promise to upscale manufacturing. Bold measures have just recently been taken to promote tourism. And all of this is encapsulated by a framework that envisages an India of deeper strengths, greater capacities and more responsibility. And not least, in making it much easier to do business.
11. In conclusion, my message is this: India is coming out of the second wave and will witness a strong economic recovery. It will be a more dynamic and friendlier business destination. We will contribute to being an engine of growth for the global economy. And we will be very much a part of more reliable and resilient supply chains that the post-Covid world requires. International cooperation, especially among businesses, will be very much a key to the better world that we all seek. The Indo-Pacific – a region in which we are so deeply invested historically – will be an arena of particular activity and energy. I look forward to working with all of you in the coming days.
Thank you very much.