Katrin Kivi recently presented credentials to President Ram Nath Kovind as the Ambassador of Estonia to India. Ambassador Kivi has served as the Permanent Representative of Estonia to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Prior to that she was Ambassador of Estonia to Denmark.In an interview to Ashok Tuteja, she talks about India-Estonia relations and the reasons why a free trade agreement (FTA) between India and the European Union (EU) is taking time to fructify.
How do you look at India-Estonia relations?
Relations between the two countries have been very good and cordial. The Republic of India recognised Estonia’s independence on 9 September 1991 after we had restored our Independence. The reason for such a recent beginning of our formal interaction is related to our history. We had lost our Independence that we gained in 1918 by the time India became Independent in 1947. Diplomatic relations were established on 2 December 1991. Embassy of Estonia in Delhi was opened in February 2013. India covers Estonia from their Embassy in Helsinki. We would gladly see India opening an Embassy also in Tallinn in the very near future. It would make our good relations even stronger and enhance people-to-people ties.
Recently there have been several high-level meetings. I was in Tallinn for the visit of the Vice-President of India, Mr. Venkaiah Naidu on 20 and 21 August. I can tell you that the level of trust between our countries is very high. It is not by coincidence that Prime Minister Modi met with President Kaljulaid on 25 September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Our leaders have acknowledged that we must work together on e-governance, digitalisation and cyber security. We need to work together especially on cyber security. Estonia is also happy to share our ca 15 years of experience in using a single ID card for several online and digital government services. I believe there is a great potential to upgrade our bilateral relationship from friendship to partnership.
How do you propose to increase trade and economic relations between the two countries during your tenure in New Delhi?
India has a large market and quick growth, and Estonian companies could contribute to that. The bilateral trade stood at 119 million euros in 2018, which is not too little taking into account the size of Estonia. More than 100 Estonian companies are doing business with Indian partners. Export to India grew by 31% and investments from India to Estonia by 43% in 2018. There are many areas where our companies could explore cooperation, such as biotech, e-governance solutions, energy, food, wood industry, digital technology and services for example.
Estonia as an investments’ destination is worth exploring as we have a very open, stable and export- oriented economy. According to annual ratings of the World Bank, Estonia is ranked 16th among 190 economies on the Ease of Doing Business list. We are in the EU since 2004 and Eurozone since 2011. Investors can enjoy the benefits of operating in the Common Single Market of the EU and at the same time in the most digitalised economies in the world. The geographical location between Scandinavia and Western Europe is perfect for a European hub of an Indian company. Recently Tata Consultancy Services opened their office in Tallinn and there are more Indian companies that have found it an attractive place for doing business. The business environment allows solutions and services to be researched, developed and delivered globally. We have also very skilled and well-educated labour force. Although we speak our own language ~ Estonian ~ the level of English is very high so there is no language barrier when doing business in Estonia.
The high level of digitalisation, transparency and low level of corruption makes it a reliable destination for investments. The start-ups’ ecosystem is something that has attracted international investors. I wish that many Indian investors will come to explore that! To name a few Estonian unicorns, I’d start by Skype that was developed by Estonian engineers. Transferwise facilitates transferring foreign currency, Bolt is an analogue of Uber and Ola, and Playtech is supplying software and services to the gaming industry. I can only hope that more Indo-Estonian startups, such as Velmenni, will soon emerge to deliver concrete solutions for the benefit of the world! Our e-residency program also facilitates doing business in Estonia. It is allowing foreign nationals to access the digital services provided in Estonia. More than 2700 Indian people have become e-residents and they have established more than 400 companies in Estonia during the past five years.
Estonia is a member of the European Union (EU). Why is a free trade agreement (FTA) between India and EU not fructifying?
FTA is a complex legal instrument and negotiations as such take time. In Asia, the EU has concluded trade agreements with Japan, Singapore and Vietnam and these agreements certainly facilitate trade and have proven to be beneficial for the both sides. It would be the case also for India and I hope good progress will be made in the negotiation process during my tenure here in India.
Does Estonia support India’s candidature for a permanent seat on the UN Security council,given the country’s size and population?
Yes, it is only natural that India with such a size of the population and economy, potential for development and dedication to multilateralism, climate and SDG goals would have a seat in the reformed UNSC. I can tell you that Prime Minister Modi’s speech addressing multilateralism and climate change has been read with satisfaction in Tallinn. We are also looking forward to working together with India at the UNSC in 2021. Estonia is an elected member of the Council on 2020 and 2021. One of our priorities is the reform of the Security Council and we will put all our efforts to convince the other members of this necessity.
Estonia can be an attractive destination for Indian tourists? Do you propose to organise roadshows in India for promoting tourism?
I am proud to say that the number of Indian tourists has doubled in 2018 compared to 2017. 15,000 Indians visited us last year! Estonia is an attractive destination for tourists interested in the Northern European culture. The best time to visit is around summer (May to October, July and August being the best months). We have many records on the list of World Heritage of UNESCO, among others the Old Town of Tallinn and the over 150 years’ old tradition of singing and dancing festivals. There’s a lot of culture to enjoy in Tallinn. The museums, opera, ballet, exhibitions and concerts are easily accessible and have a high level of quality. One would find beautiful boutique hotels in the Old Town and renovated old Baltic German manor houses that have been transformed to hotels and spas in the nearby pristine countryside. The food is awesome ~ combination of Scandinavian, Russian and German cuisines but made of pure local products. There are more than 2000 islands, most of them inhabited. Trekking and passing long distances in the nature is what gives you the best experience in Estonia. Language is not an issue as people have a high level of English.
What are the major imports in Estonia from India and vice-versa?
Major imports from India to Estonia have been machines and devices, metal and metal products, chemical products, and textile. Main export articles from Estonia to India were paper pulp and products from paper pulp such as wood cellulose, paper, petroleum oils, machines and devices, wood and timber, metal and metal products.
Any high-level exchanges between the two countries in the offing?
After the first high-level visit from India by the Vice President in August and the meeting between Mr Modi and Ms Kaljulaid, it’stime for a visit to India by our leaders at the ministerial level. It would be the first visit of Estonia’s Prime Minister.