India’s accelerated outreach to Nordic countries

India and Nordic countries are increasing their interaction at the time when the Indo-Pacific Region is overtaking Europe and the North Atlantic as the geopolitical and geoeconomic centre of the world
Keywords: Nordic, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Modi, Virtual Summit, Supply Chain, Indo-Pacific, Geoeconomics, World order, Pandemic, Climate change, Green strategic partnership
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India is set to welcome Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen later this month. She will be the first foreign leader to visit India since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

Frederiksen’s visit is a part of India’s accelerated outreach to Nordic countries. In the past one year, when most of the international engagements assumed virtual character, India held virtual summits with three Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

India’s engagements with Nordic countries come at the time when the global order is in a state of flux due to the pandemic and due to new geopolitical challenges. India and Nordic countries have potential to play an important role in the post-pandemic world order in multiple ways.

Diversification of international engagements

Greater interaction between India and Nordic countries offer both the entities of expanding their respective international engagements. India has deep engagements with the European Union (EU) and overall Europe as well. However, these engagements continue to be selective implying strong relations with a few countries and not a lot of interaction with the others. This phenomenon could be understood by taking trade data for the year 2019-20 as an indicator.

India’s top five trading partners in the EU are Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Italy. Out of these five countries, four – Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France – are among India’s top 20 trade partners in the world.

India’s foreign trade profile is diverse with China, the United States (US), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the European countries as its top trading partners. Compared to India, the foreign trade profile of Denmark, Finland and Sweden indicate dominance of European countries among the top trade partners. This indicates that not only is there scope for the trade to grow between India and Nordic countries, but the former offers the latter opportunity to expand its economic ties beyond Europe.

Diversification of economic engagements between various entities in the world is necessary in the wake of disruption of supply chains. With a large chunk of them concentrated in China, the sanitary restrictions affected several economies badly. The recent engagements between India and Nordic countries should lead to further economic interactions.

With the world rapidly moving towards digitization, India and Nordic countries have stepped up their cooperation in this field in a timely manner. Technology and digitization have been major areas of cooperation that India explored during its summits with Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

India and Nordic countries are increasing their interaction at the time when the Indo-Pacific Region is overtaking Europe and the North Atlantic as the geopolitical and geoeconomic centre of the world. While Nordic countries have extensive relations with China and Japan, India provides an additional avenue in the Indo-Pacific Region.

In recent times, a number of European countries such as France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (UK) have formulated their own policies with respect to the Indo-Pacific Region. Stronger links with India can give Nordic countries better access to the Indo-Pacific Region. India and Nordic countries could explore meaningful strategic cooperation in future in order to consolidate their relations.  

Cooperation on Climate Change

Climate change is an area with great potential for cooperation between India and Nordic countries. Both have already taken some steps in this regard.

India and Denmark entered into a Green Strategic Partnership agreement during the virtual summit held in September 2020 between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. This agreement is an upgrade of a previous agreement that established a Joint Commission for Cooperation in 2009. The Green Strategic Partnership is intended to advance political and economic cooperation while working towards adhering to the Paris Climate Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals. This includes working together in addressing issues such as pollution and water loss.

During the virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin in March 2021, both the countries agreed to cooperate on sustainable development and renewable energy. Finland has the target to be carbon-free and fossil-free by 2035. India is also planning to replace fossil fuel with green hydrogen in a period of next one decade which makes it imperative to collaborate with countries with similar goals. That way, India-Finland partnership can make a significant contribution to the cause of the environment.

India and Sweden also held a virtual summit in March 2021. Among a host of issues, both the countries agreed to work in the areas of climate action and sustainable development. India welcomed Sweden’s decision to join the International Solar Alliance (ISA).

The themes of climate change, sustainable development, renewable energy and technological innovation have been the core issues which offer a significant scope for India and Nordic countries to cooperate.

India’s engagements with these Nordic countries have come just before the India-EU Summit which will be held in Portugal on May 8. Denmark, Finland and Sweden are all members of the EU. India’s engagements with Nordic countries indicate that India is looking to diversify its engagements within the Union.

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Niranjan Marjani

Niranjan Marjani is a Political Analyst and Researcher based in Vadodara

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