India lays out fast-track route for German investors

Dr Merkel and Mr Modi at a joint news conference in New Delhi yesterday. Behind them is a statue of Hindu goddess Durga, which was returned to India by the Linden Museum of Stuttgart during Dr Merkel's visit.
Dr Merkel and Mr Modi at a joint news conference in New Delhi yesterday. Behind them is a statue of Hindu goddess Durga, which was returned to India by the Linden Museum of Stuttgart during Dr Merkel's visit.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Commerce ministry will vet business deals; German to be reintroduced in some schools

India is setting up an investment fast-track for German companies and will resume teaching of German in government schools, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi moves to deepen ties with Europe's biggest economy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is on a three-day visit to India and Mr Modi said yesterday he had an "extraordinary session" with her that lasted more than three hours.

Mr Modi announced that Germany had committed more than one billion euros (S$1.6 billion) as an assistance package for solar projects. A joint statement said it would be spread over the next five years.

"We see Germany as a natural partner in achieving our vision of India's economic transformation. German strengths and India's priorities are aligned. And, so is our mutual goodwill," said Mr Modi, who is seeking foreign investment to drive campaigns such as Make in India to push manufacturing.

Dr Merkel described the fast-track agreement, which will see quicker clearances for German business deals routed through the commerce ministry, as a "very important" development.

MUTUAL BENEFITS

We see Germany as a natural partner in achieving our vision of India's economic transformation. German strengths and India's priorities are aligned. And, so is our mutual goodwill.

INDIA'S PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI, who is seeking foreign investment to drive campaigns such as Make in India

Germany is India's biggest trading partner in the European Union (EU), with bilateral trade at US$17.9 billion (S$25.5 billion) last year. There has also been greater focus on bilateral ties since Mr Modi visited Germany in April.

Still, difficulties remain in the deepening of economic ties, such as red tape and multiple layers of clearances for businesses. Germany is pushing for an improvement in India's business environment.

Another irritant has been the issue of teaching German in government schools.

The Indian education ministry last year controversially replaced it as a third language in top government schools, asserting it violated the Indian Constitution. It had been introduced in 2011.

India yesterday announced that German would be taught as an additional language in top government schools. This was among 18 agreements, ranging from security cooperation and food safety to manufacturing, signed between the two countries.

Analysts said the visit was also important beyond bilateral ties, as the most powerful European economy could also help improve India's ties with the EU.

A joint statement released after the talks said the two leaders "committed themselves" to helping resume talks between India and the EU on a stalled free trade agreement.

"Mr Modi is obviously giving a lot of importance to the visit. He feels he needs to give direction at the top," said Professor Gulshan Sachdava, of the Centre for European Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"He is spending so much time with the German chancellor, he is travelling to Bangalore (for a joint business event) and showing that India is ready to do business. Germany can push many things within Europe," he said.

Beyond Europe, the two countries also discussed other issues, such as the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where the two sides "underlined the importance of freedom of navigation in international waters, the right of passage."

They also called for a political solution in Syria to successfully fight terrorism.

The joint statement noted the two countries had entered "a new phase by building on their growing convergence on foreign and security issues and on the complementarities between the two economies."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2015, with the headline 'India lays out fast-track route for German investors'. Print Edition | Subscribe