Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Stockholm for a summit with Nordic peers already rattled by the sound of Donald Trump’s protectionist war-drums. This visit can expect benefits of free trade.
The first-ever joint meeting between the prime ministers of India, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden comes at a critical juncture for the global economy, with the European Union still trying to figure out if it will obtain a permanent exemption from US tariffs on foreign steel and aluminium.
Modi for his part, has been sending conflicting messages about his free trade credentials: Having declared at the World Economic Forum in January that India was open for business, the premier made a U-turn less than a month later by raising import duties to their highest level in three decades.
The last thing that the export-oriented Nordics need from the world’s biggest economies is more protectionism.
“We want to move in the opposite direction to the US and create more positive examples of what free trade can do,” Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said in an interview ahead of Tuesday’s summit.
Given India’s preference for dealing with individual countries rather than the EU as a whole, the summit is a golden opportunity for the Nordics - a region of 27 million people with an economy roughly the size of Canada’s - to do business with the world’s biggest democracy. A free trade agreement with the EU has been years in the making, with slim results.
India’s USD2.3 trillion economy has obvious attractions for Nordic businesses. Sweden, for instance, is sensing an opportunity to showcase its Saab AB Gripen fighter jets ahead of a July deadline for bids in India’s procurement process of 110 locally-manufactured aircraft.
Saab, which has been supplying India’s armed forces for decades, argues that the Gripen is ideally suited for the country’s purposes and has proposed setting up an aerospace ecosystem to manufacture the jets under Modi’s Make-in-India plan.
The one-day summit sees Sweden’s Lofven host Modi during the morning, while the other heads of government will each be granted 30-minute bilaterals in the afternoon. A working dinner will then bring them all together in the evening.