Mr. Specker shares with us the primary areas where India and Switzerland can exchange expertise and ideas to forge better alliances and share knowledge.
What is the role of the Consulate’s office in terms of trade, tourism and investment between India and Switzerland?
The Consulate supports activities of all parties seeking to develop or strengthen ties between India and Switzerland whether in trade, tourism, investment, culture or education. We act as facilitators and try to bring partners together as per their requirements. Essentially, we are coordinators between the two countries. Our role also includes safeguarding the interests of Swiss nationals in India. The issuing of visas is an important part of our total jurisdiction.
Switzerland is present in India through its network comprising of the Swiss Embassy in New Delhi, including the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Swiss General Consulate in Mumbai, the Swiss Business Hub in Mumbai, the Swiss Honorary Consuls in Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata, the Swiss-Indian Chamber of Commerce (SICC) and – awaiting for approval by the relevant authorities in India – Swissnex Bangalore.
What will be the role of Swissnex in India?
Our goal is to fully exploit the potential of cooperation between Switzerland and a limited number of countries in the fields of higher education, research, technology and innovation and to promote Switzerland as a leading country in those domains. So far, the Swiss State Secretariat for Education and Research of the Ministry of Home Affairs has opened Swissnex offices in Boston, San Francisco, Shanghai and Singapore. Switzerland has deposited a request with the relevant authorities to operate an office in Bangalore. Swissnex in Bangalore will provide a platform for Swiss and Indian individuals and organisations to share knowledge and form partnerships in science, higher education, technology and innovation.
A recent example of this joint-cooperation was the launch of the first Swiss satellite on 23 September 2009 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India. The satellite, called SwissCube, travelled on board an Indian PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) together with 5 other nano-satellites from Germany and Turkey.
India is as a high priority country and Switzerland is committed to strengthen existing links and forming new links with the higher education and research institutions in India. Indo-Swiss cooperation encompasses a broad range of activities including joint research projects, reciprocal visits of faculty members, exchange programmes for students and trainees, jointly organised courses and the coordination of two bilateral research programmes. The leading house for Indo-Swiss cooperation is the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) together with the associated leading house, the University of Lausanne.
What is the role of the Swiss-Indian Chamber of Commerce?
The Swiss-Indian Chamber of Commerce (SICC) is a bi-national, private sector, non-profit association with 400 Swiss and Indian members. It is devoted to growing business between individuals and companies in India and Switzerland. Founded in 1985, SICC is widely recognized as a key player in advancing Indo-Swiss economic relationships. As an independent organization, the Chamber cooperates with all public and private institutions that pursue similar goals.
SICC achieves its objectives by enhancing the flow of information on investment and trade-related issues between India and Switzerland. It strives to improve bilateral commercial, industrial and technical cooperation between India and Switzerland as well as support the establishment of joint ventures and strategic alliances between enterprises of both countries
The SICC Board includes representatives of firms that actively pursue the enhancement of Swiss-Indian economic relations. The Board is supported by an advisory body that helps to strengthen the SICC’s network, and functions as a sounding board on a variety of issues that the chamber routinely confronts.
SICC has its head office in Zurich, Switzerland and regional offices in Bangalore (SICC Southern Region), Delhi (SICC Northern Region) and Mumbai (SICC Western Region).
The Swiss Business Hub is part of Osec-Business Network Switzerland covering the area of the export and investment promotion of Switzerland. It is the official Swiss organisation for trade promotion with offices integrated at the Consulate General in Mumbai and in the Swiss Embassy in New Delhi.
What platforms are present for cultural and educational information exchange between India and Switzerland?
In the cultural field, we have a Liaison Office of the Swiss Arts Council in New Delhi called Pro Helvetia which initiates, supports and presents projects that reflect the multicultural character of Switzerland and India. It supports Swiss artists seeking dialogue with other cultures in an effort to forge closer ties. The focus is on quality and originality, on mutuality and respect to ensure that both sides benefit from the exchange.
The liaison office in New Delhi is the Swiss Arts Council’s first office in Asia. Its aim is to coordinate Pro Helvetia’s activities in the South Asia region starting with India. It supports artistic and cultural collaboration between India and Switzerland and also promotes Swiss ideas and arts practice among Indian audiences. Contemporary music, design, dance, literature, photography and new media are the areas that Pro Helvetia New Delhi will focus on in the near future.
Can you elaborate on the origins of the name Helvetia and how it came to be associated with Switzerland?
Helvetia is the Latin word for Switzerland and used by the Romans for the territory between the Lake of Constance and the Lake of Geneva. Officially, Switzerland is known as the Confoederatio Helvetica in Latin, hence its ISO country code of CH. On each coin and postage stamp of Switzerland, you will find either Helvetia or Confoederatio Helvetica. This is also the reason why Swiss license plates have the international abbreviation of CH and why the Swiss Franc currency is abbreviated as CHF.
Helvetia became a symbol of unity of the Old Swiss Confederacy in the face of the denominational disputes initiated by the Swiss Reformation in the 17th Century and the term became widespread in the 19th Century.
Today the Swiss Confederation is a multi-lingual and multi-cultural nation. Helvetia is the symbol of a unified Switzerland.
In addition to being one of the richest economies, Switzerland is also a leader in the environmental performance index. How does Switzerland balance economic prosperity with environmental sustainability?
Switzerland is a small country with very limited resources. We have to care about our natural resources because villages, cities, and factories all share the same space. Because of this close proximity, every interference – such as pollution of air or water – is immediately noticed. Therefore, very early on Swiss people realized the importance of cleaning waste water and implementing air pollution measures.
Of course, one of the most important reasons for achieving environmental sustainability is because we earn our livelihoods from this magnificent nature. This is our value and this is why we have to care for it.
Are there any challenges in maintaining this balance, such as accommodating tourists from nations where environmental awareness is limited?
Even though we have many visitors, we make it a point to always offer environmentally friendly tourism opportunities. We have an excellent system of public transportation in Switzerland. When tourists see how we manage the environmental situation in Switzerland from transportation to waste collection and water treatment, I am certain most visitors think that they should implement similar measures in their own countries. For example, each small village in Switzerland has its own water treatment plant. If it is possible in a small village in Switzerland, then why not in their own countries?
Which are the primary areas where India and Switzerland can exchange expertise and ideas to forge better alliances and share knowledge?
Certainly one of the focus points this year will be the cooperation in new technologies such as renewable energy and sustainable management in general. Both India and Switzerland realize how fragile the
…environment is and how important it is to take care of it. Switzerland without the snow and glaciers and India without its wildlife and rural landscape would no longer be the same attractions. We must realize the immeasurable value of these resources and also share this message with our partners.
With the growing Indian economy over the past few years, do you see an increase in investments between Switzerland and India and extension of bilateral trade between the two states?
India is one of the five major focus markets of Switzerland. It is undoubted that the Indian economy has enormous growth potential. Swiss companies are certainly maneuvering towards the Indian market.
There are 150 Swiss companies in India. There are 60 companies in Maharashtra.
Last year, I was present at three factory inaugurations in Maharashtra. This shows the interest of the Swiss industry in the Indian market. They believe in India and its potential.
The main segment of investment is in mechanical appliances and components. Swiss companies are increasingly manufacturing their products in India and covering the Southeast Asia and Middle East regions from a base in India. Swiss and Indian companies are also working together in the automotive sector. For example, in each Nano car, there are at 35 positions with Swiss technology, but produced in India by Indo-Swiss joint ventures. This certainly creates many employment opportunities in the local market. There are at the least several hundred thousand employees of Swiss companies in India.
In terms of bilateral trade, there was approximately USD 2 billion of exports from Switzerland to India in 2009 comprising of machines, appliances and chemical and pharmaceutical products. In the same year, Switzerland imported USD 1 billion of primarily agricultural products from India. Switzerland is ranked 10 in direct investment to India in the last 10 years. In terms of tourism, 130000 Indian tourists visited Switzerland in 2009.
Switzerland is a favourite for the Indian outbound tourism segment due to the Bollywood influence. According to you, which are the other famous icons of Switzerland?
Aside from chocolate, cheese and watches, an interesting fact is that about half of the computer mouses worldwide are produced with Swiss technology. Logitech, the well-known peripheral device producer for PCs, is a Swiss company.
There are many other products which we use everyday and are not aware that they are of Swiss origin. The very useful and ubiquitous Velcro is a Swiss patent and is used in many clothing items and bags. The origin of the electronic watch was also in Switzerland but the traditional watchmakers did not believe in its future and the technology eventually found its way to Japan and the United States. The food brand Nestlé which produces hundreds of products and employs thousands of people in India is a Swiss company. ACC, another Swiss company, is the second largest producer of cement in India and a key leader in the building and infrastructure sectors.
In fact, perhaps the most popular technology today – the World Wide Web – was invented by scientists at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research and the world’s largest laboratory) at Geneva.
You have been in India for 2 years. What has been your experience so far in increasing awareness of Switzerland across various fields?
I am very impressed by how India identifies Switzerland through film portrayals. They have a pure image of the country. I am very pleased to see how Indians are charmed by Switzerland. I assure you that the reality will not disappoint this perception.
Personally, I find India to be very fascinating. I have visited many places throughout India from Manali in the north to the southern tip of Kanyakumari, from Bhuj to Pondicherry. On a recent trip to Kolkata, I was very impressed by how well the city is planned.
One place in India is not like the next and travelling is a must to get a true perspective of the country and its people.
Which are your preferred holiday destinations in India?
I enjoyed Kerala – the backwaters and the hill stations – very much. I have not yet done so but I am looking forward to visiting the national parks of Madhya Pradesh and central India as well as Kashmir and its surrounding areas.
I recently visited Rajasthan and was very impressed by the city of Udaipur. I think every visitor to India should put Udaipur on their list of destinations. It has an excellent balance of history, culture and scenery – all of which will certainly appeal to tourists.
Which are your favourite summer and winter holiday destinations in Switzerland?
In Switzerland, my favourite destinations are the Italian-speaking region of Ticino surrounding the major city of Lugano and the eastern region surrounding Davos where the famous World Economic Forum takes place. Of course, Switzerland offers much in terms of holiday value covering many interests.
What is the awareness of India amongst the people of Switzerland?
The vast diversity of India makes it many things to many people. Perhaps a person from Switzerland who has never travelled outside the country would initially be overwhelmed at the many faces of India – from the major cities to the rural villages. The diversity in Switzerland cannot be compared to the diversity in India. Switzerland has four languages and four cultures. India has hundreds of languages and cultures.
Personally, I have spent 35 years of my life outside Switzerland. For me however, even India was a completely new place. I had never even visited India before I started my current assignment. But it was not so overwhelming for me because I lived in big cities like New York, Madrid, Jakarta, Mexico. India has much in common with other areas of the world and at the same time also holds a unique place in this world which must be experienced.
Which aspect of your multi-faceted role as Consul General do you find most interesting?
The most interesting aspect of this role is being able to meet and build relationships with people from so many different areas of trade and society. As there is no security risk for me in this country, I can roam freely and explore. I can take a taxi or a train or even walk around during day and night without any bodyguards. Because of this freedom, I get a much deeper perspective of the country and its people. I am not in an ebony tower. I am living in contact with the local community. An excellent example is the location of my residence in the Mahalaxmi Temple area – everyday I see thousands of people gather for their daily prayers.
Lastly, what is your message to readers who are planning to visit Switzerland in the near future?
Switzerland is a destination which allows you to be still and enjoy the beauty of the world. Visitors should take the opportunity to rest and not only to run from one corner to the other. Switzerland is a place where you can take a halt, sit down near a lake and look at beautiful mountains and just enjoy nature. Take your time and take your rest in Switzerland.