After obtaining a law degree at the Comenius University in Bratislava, Ivan Lancaric, currently, Slovak Ambassador to India,  joined the Foreign Service of the then Czechoslovakia in 1990. In 1993, he joined the newly-established Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the same year was posted to the Slovak Embassy in Zagreb, Croatia. Since then he has worked on various positions, including Slovak Representative to the OSCE Mission in Georgia or Deputy Head of the Mission in London. In 2010, he was appointed Slovak Ambassador to Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. And, in July 2018, he took over as Ambassador to India.

In an interview with Rakesh Kumar, the envoy spoke about India-Slovakia relations in different fields.

Excerpts:

How do you look at India-Slovakia relations?

Bilateral relations are friendly and constructive without any open issues. Slovakia wishes to strengthen ties with India on political and economic issues, we want to build a true partnership between our two countries. We appreciate new dynamics and commitment in the structural dialogue between India and EU. We want to focus on enhancing our economic cooperation. We just held the 10th meeting of Joint Economic Committee and ‘Business to Business’ forum in Delhi in February and we want to build its concrete outputs. The next meeting will take place in 2020 in Bratislava.

We will work towards balancing the huge trade deficit on the Slovak side. In this respect, we want to focus our cooperation on energy, environment, water management, automobile industry, agriculture, forestry and food industry sectors. We will also seek to encourage further cooperation in defence, machinery, science and research, high technology, IT and electro-technical sectors, where both Slovakia and India have a considerable know-how and qualified resources.

We appreciate the investment of TATA Group in Slovakia ~ Jaguar Land Rover, which we believe will be a catalyst for further investments by Indian companies with added value in Slovakia. Our country offers favourable conditions for foreign investors (recently a new law was passed on investment incentives) thus creating excellent conditions for enhanced cooperation, especially in the sectors with added value.

Slovakia is a member of the European Union (EU). Why is a free trade agreement (FTA) between India and EU not fructifying?

The Slovak Republic strongly supports FTA between India and EU. We already see some progress in negotiations, which are very complex in nature. The EU wants the agreement to be convenient for both sides. We see in some of the measures India implemented in recent years, to be more of a protectionist nature in foreign trade.

Slovakia is also a member of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). Do you think India should be admitted to the NSG?

Slovakia pays due attention to the application of India to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). Slovakia, by adopting the NSG Statement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with India, together with other NSG countries, supported the exception for India in cooperation with the NSG. Slovakia strives for improving and enhancing the global non-proliferation regime that is strengthening international security. Slovakia will not oppose consensus on Indian NSG membership application.

How does Slovakia look at India’s candidature for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council?

We support the bid of Germany, Brazil, India and Japan, known as the G-4 nations, for permanent membership in an expanded Security Council. We view the UNSC reform as a part of broader UN reforms. Slovakia supports expansion in both categories of membership (permanent and non-permanent). We believe the UNSC should reflect the new geopolitical realities in the world.

Slovakia has immense tourism potential. What is being done to promote Slovakia as a tourist destination for Indians?

We want to attract a more significant number of Indian tourists. We are already in negotiations with a few companies in order to enhance the promotion of Slovakia as an attractive tourist destination. There is so much that can be offered to potential tourists even by such a relatively small country. For example, on our territory, you can find 120 historical castles, hundreds of other historical buildings and cathedrals, nine wonderful national parks and 7,000 natural caves.

And we have in total 30 records in the list of world heritage of UNESCO. Our objective is to attract more travellers from India to Slovakia. It all starts with visa applications. Therefore, we have taken concrete steps to facilitate and speed up the process, such as launching three new Visa Centres in India and doubling the capacity of our Consular department. Cooperation with VFS Global also means that the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in New Delhi can process more national D visas for Indian students or future employees of Slovak companies.

Could you please throw some light on India-Slovakia economic and trade ties?

Slovakia and India were traditional trade partners in the past. Currently, our trade is not very balanced in terms of value because goods imported from India to Slovakia in 2018 were worth 441,7 million Euro and goods exported from Slovakia to India were worth 67 million Euro. But on the other hand, the commodity structure is in favour of Slovakia, because Indian exports are mostly composed of textiles, food products and crude materials while Slovak exports are mostly composed of products with higher added value (electronic and mechanical devices, chemistry, steel products…). As mentioned above, we want to focus on enhancing our economic cooperation further.

Are any high-level visits planned between India and Slovakia in coming days?

The intensity of high-level visits between our countries has intensified in the last three years. In 2016, Minister of Foreign and EU Affairs of the Slovak Republic M Lajcák visited India twice, when he met in his function of UN PGA President-elect with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. The State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and EU Affairs of the Slovak Republic, L Parízek, visited India in September 2017, meeting with Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh and Minister of State for Defence S Bhamre. Last year, (then) Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar held political consultations in Slovakia meeting with Minister of Foreign and EU Affairs M Lajcák, Minister of Defence and State Secretary for Foreign and EU Affairs L Parízek. Minister of State was also one of the chief speakers at GLOBSEC, which has become a leading conference on foreign and security policy in the region (comparable to Raisina dialogue). We hope that in 2019 we will host Mr Ram Nath Kovind, President of India, in Slovakia. Our expectations are realistic though, given the fact that the year 2019 is an election year in India and in Slovakia ~ we just held presidential elections and early 2020 Slovakia will hold parliamentary elections.