A number of initiatives from smart grids to joint research expeditions in polar science are under way as part of the India-Swedish innovation partnership that the Covid-19 pandemic has not been able to derail, says Swedish Ambassador to India Klas Molin.

In an e-mail interview with BusinessLine , Molin talks about a range of issues, including the need for policy stability and predictability to attract more Swedish investments, the importance of an India-EU free trade agreement and the Sweden-India Nobel Memorial week. Excerpts:

How are you celebrating the ongoing Sweden India Nobel Memorial week amid the pandemic and what are the initiatives planned, especially in the area of business?

The Sweden India Nobel Memorial week, which is now in its 13th year, was instituted in memory of inventor-philosopher Alfred Nobel and celebrates innovations, creativity and entrepreneurship. Like everything else in the new normal, this year, it will take place entirely on a digital platform.

To begin with, the Sweden India Nobel Memorial Quiz for college students is live on www.swedeninindia.com. There will be a series of Nobel Lectures this year called ‘SHE STEM! Women leading the way’ and a number of events planned under ‘Sweden India Health Talks’.

We are also envisaging a virtual interaction between Swedish Trade Minister Anna Hallberg and the 200+ Swedish companies in India, where the Minister would give her outlook on global trade and investment scenario, and more specifically trends for Sweden and Swedish industry in the ongoing pandemic. A few virtual workshops and B2B meetings will be held with Swedish and Indian cleantech companies under the Innovation Accelerator, which focuses on the business of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

India and Sweden have in place an innovation partnership, and last December, during Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf’s visit, a number of initiatives were signed. What is the progress?

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Sweden in 2018, the innovation partnership has become one of the flagships of our relations with India. In fact, one of the only three partnerships Sweden has on global innovations is with India. Last December, during the State Visit, a Protocol of Cooperation was signed between the Department of Science and Technology of India and the Swedish Energy Agency. A jointly funded call in the area of smart grids was announced in March 2020. It will open for applications in end-November.

An MoU was signed between the Ministry of Earth Sciences of India and the Ministry of Education and Research of Sweden on cooperation of polar science. In September 2020, the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat participated in the international webinar on ‘Managing Polar Oceans Sustainably’ jointly with the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences. Both sides are also in discussion about joint research expeditions, once the Covid-19 situation improves.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected collaboration between the two countries?

I am extremely pleased that despite Covid-19, research and innovation funding agencies in our countries have undertaken several joint workshops in 2020. As a result, a joint call on ‘circular economy’ is in the works. Both countries also announced a call on projects involving Artificial Intelligence for advancing healthcare in India and Sweden.

Swedish furniture company Ikea waited many years for a favourable FDI policy for single brand retail before it opened its first store in Hyderabad. Are Swedish companies looking for further changes in India’s FDI policy?

Transparency and flexibility regarding FDI is one part of it, but one also needs to look at start-ups and smaller establishments. It is important that the investment can be put into use, which means seamless approvals, licences, collaborations between the Centre and the states.

Swedish companies such as Volvo are doing business in India for decades. What policy changes are needed to attract more investments from Sweden?

Almost all the Swedish majors are present in India. Several medium-size companies have also established business here. To attract more investments from Sweden, stability and predictability in the policy landscape is important, so that companies can plan ahead. Clarity on retrospective taxation in India and a pragmatic view on what it means to be a local company with reference to ‘Atmanirbhaar Bharat’, taking into consideration the potential for the global value chains in making India a hub for export is also important.

The proposed India-EU free trade pact (BTIA) has been languishing for long. Is Sweden interested in taking the negotiations forward?

We firmly believe that an FTA would be mutually very beneficial. There is still some work to be done in calibrating expectations and scope on both sides. This year’s EU-India Summit agreed upon a high-level economic dialogue. Hopefully, this will pave the way for resumption of negotiations.