Born in 1961, Czech Republic’s Ambassador to India, Milan Hovorka, has a vast experience of handling international affairs. After graduating from the University of Economics in Prague, he worked with the Federal Ministry of Foreign Trade of Czechoslovakia.

After the fall of Communism in the country in 1989, he was sent to Geneva, where he worked as a representative at the country’s Permanent Mission to the UN and other international organisations. Since then he has held various important portfolios.

In September 2016, Milan Hovorka took charge of the Embassy of the Czech Republic. In an interview with Rakesh Kumar, the ambassador shared his views on Czech Republic’s relations with India and support for New Delhi at various international platforms and how he has been working to increase tourism from India.

Excerpts:  

How do you look at relations between India and Czech Republic?

The two countries have been cherishing and enjoying friendly relations and these relations date back to decades, or I would say centuries, before the formal establishment of diplomatic relations between our two great nations.

Last year, we were all privileged to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Czechoslovakia was one among the first countries to recognise independent India.

So, I would sum up that we have been enjoying a thriving relationship and we have been working together in a number of areas, including political issues, education, culture and people-to-people contacts. So, we are like-minded countries on a number of international issues.

Czech Republic is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Why is India not being allowed to become its member?

This is a process and I don’t want to comment in detail on various aspects of this process because it would take much time I will limit myself to restate that the Czech Republic is, has always been and remains one of the valiant supporters of Indian sub-continent to become a full-fledged member of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group.

Czech Republic is also a member of the European Union (EU). Why has a free trade agreement between India and EU not fructified despite more than ten years of negotiations?

Again, I would say that Czech Republic is one of the most open member states of the European Union. We have been valiant supporters of free and rule-based trade and it is because of our experience that the Czech economy was guided by the principles of a centrally planning system. After the process of opening up, and huge profound political and economic changes, we have opened up the economy.

We have decided to get rid of all those administrative obstacles preventing the economy from using its full potential.

Now. the Czech Republic has emerged as one of the best trade and investment spots in Europe. Definitely one of the fastest growing economies in the Europe these days.

We are definitely interested in narrowing the gaps and in creating conditions, on the basis of which negotiations for free trade and investment could be restored and preferably brought to a successful conclusion. To reach that stage, it would require from both sides readiness to compromise, to listen to each other and to be able to reflect on the other’s sensitivity in its decision-making.

So, I am still confident that sooner or later we will be able to restore negotiations and I believe that the European Union and India are ideally positioned to work together with a view to strengthening matters of the trading system, on the issue of terrorism and to promote rule-based system. At the same time, I believe they are ideally positioned to work as rule setters.

Can you please throw some light on trade relations between India and Czech Republic?

Well, I have to say the trade has traditionally been the backbone of our economic relations. I am pleased to report that it has been increasing over the last couple of years to reach 1. 4 billion US $ in 2017. Good news is that in the first five months of this year, the bilateral trade expanded by more than 21.9 per cent, means 694 million US dollars. It is a great achievement. To have a healthy relationship, it’s very important to have balanced trade flows, this is what we two have in our bilateral relations. It is a two-way avenue, in which both the countries benefit from the comparative advantages. At the same time, more and more investors are willing to explore possibilities either in the Czech Republic or in India.

Are there any plans for high-level exchanges between the two countries in the near future?

Yes, we do expect contacts at the highest political level. President Kovind is set to visit the Czech Republic soon. It is going to be an important milestone in bilateral relations between our two countries.

Is Czech Republic taking any steps to attract Indian tourists to the country?

Indeed! I attended an extremely interesting event hosted by the ambassador’s forum, during which we had an opportunity to interact with Indian tourism minister, K J Alphons. We are genuinely interested in promoting people-to-people contacts through tourism, student exchanges and culture. I heard that in 2017 nearly 25 million Indians went abroad and it is soon to touch 50 million. India is one of the fastest growing outbound tourism spots. I am particularly very pleased that we have been quite successful in our promotional activities and in 2017, around 85,000 Indians visited Czech Republic. It is three times more than what we had five years ago.

They spent an average of three-and-a-half days in the country. To encourage more people, we regularly attend tourism fairs. Even this year, we will be having travel shows in different cities. Also, we have set up an office of Czech tourism authority. We have been expanding the networking of visa application centres. Today, we have 16 centres across India. We have tied up with VFS Global. But I still believe we can have more tourists from India.