Interview with Mr. AshokPublished: February 3, 2014
Ambassador Ashok Venkatesan was born on 8 October 1958 in Orissa, India. He graduated in Civil Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi and joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1982. Ambassador Ashok has held diplomatic assignments in Hong Kong, Malaysia, China, Austria and Sri Lanka, apart from postings in the Ministry of External Affairs in different capacities.
He is Ambassador of India to the Czech Republic since August 2011. Ambassador Ashok is married with one son. He speaks Chinese, English and several Indian languages. He has authored a book, apart from several technical articles. His interests include reading and music.
Your Excellency, what part of India do you come from? Could you tell us a few words about this place?
My parents originally come from Tamilnadu in South India. However, as my father was a civil engineer working for the Central Government, we have been with him in different parts of India. I was born in the eastern state of Orissa.
Tamilnadu is a state with stone temples and beaches, with a long coastline; an area of about 130,000 sq km and population of 72 million. Tamil is the oldest of the Dravidian stram of languages (the others being Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam), with a script that is different from the Devanagirir script of Sanskrit. Tamil has an ancient literature and culture dating back over 2000 years. Today, Tamilnadu is fast emerging as a vibrant and developing state. Literacy and standards of living are improving; the state has attracted foreign investment --- BMW, Ford and Hyundai are manufacturing and assembling motor cars and Nokia and many information technology companies are present.
How long have you been in the Czech Republic? What surprised you here most? What are you missing most?
I have been more than two years in the Czech Republic. I have been most surprised by the interest shown by Czechs in all things related to India, be it dance, music, Bollywood movies, food, spiritualism, philosophy, Ayurveda, or yoga.
Today´s economic situation in Europe is fragile and unstable. How Indian entrepreneurs perceive the turbulent development in Europe in connection with the debt crisis?
The economic crisis that started in 2008 has affected not only Europe but also Asia and India. However, I see that there is a silver lining and we both, Europe and India, seem to have passed the worst and the curve is moving upward again. Indian entrepreneurs view Europe as a region where technology is excellent and which can collaborate with India for selling and buying goods and services.
Do entrepreneurs want to establish contacts and develop relations with European countries even in the turbulent following years?
There is increasing awareness of the rising potential of the Central and Eastern European region, especially of the Visegrad 4. We see countries like the Czech Republic as a hub for niche technologies. There is great potential for both our countries and regions to put together the best and brightest academic, scientific and business minds together to mutual benefit by cooperation between universities, academies of sciences, institutions and private companies to develop products and technologies useful to both of us. Indian entrepreneurs are very keen to establish themselves in the Czech Republic and EU. We would also like Czech companies, including those in agricultural and food processing, cold storage, railways, pumps, irrigation, sewage treatment, water supply, nuclear, thermal, solar and biomass power, information technology, lasers, nanotechnology, robotics, electronics and other areas to join hands with Indian counterparts. India is spending about 1 trillion US dollars over the next 7-10 years for infrastructure projects and Czech companies have a great opportunity to participate in tenders for these projects.
What do you think about the Czech-Indian commercial and political relations?
Czech-Indian political relations have been warm and friendly. Czechoslovakia established its consulate in Mumbai in 1920. Bata' set up manufacturing units in India in the 1930s. Czechoslovakia and India established diplomatic relations in November 1947, just three months after we got our independence. In the early years, India benefitted greatly from Czech heavy machinery, tractors and power station equipment. By the end of the 1990s, the Czech Republic was beginning to look beyond Europe for markets and revived the long-standing economic ties. Skoda and other Czech companies began investing in India and Czech companies in power generation and machinery began to involve in infrastructure projects in India. Trade has moved up from 153 million in 2001 to 1.5 billion in 2011 and two-way investment is on the rise.
The government materials called "Strategy for International Competitiveness" and forthcoming "Export Strategy" for the years 2012-2020 count on regional diversification of export. One of our main future destinations outside the EU will be the Republic of India. Could you tell us a few words about the future of Indian commercial relations?
We are happy that India is one of the 12 priority markets for the Czech Republic outside the EU. We see great potential for cooperation with the Czech Republic, CEE region and EU. India is in advanced negotiations for a Broad-Based Trade and Investment Agreement with the EU that will further enhance two-way trade and investment possibilities with the Czech and CEE countries.
I see great promise in India-Czech economic ties, particularly if we leverage the advantages we have by way of cooperation in technology and bringing jointly developed technologies to commercial realization. I feel that this can be brought about by involvement of our two governments, our industries and our scientific institutes and universities. I would like to take forward in 2014 the cooperation we have so far had in science and technology and in industry, with a view to maximizing the potential that exists between our two countries. In this direction, the Czech-Indian Chamber of Commerce has an important role to play in creating awareness of the possibilities available to investors, and acting as a catalyst in removing hindrances to trade and investment, including visas.