As the planning for two trips by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Europe this summer get underway, Poland is pitching for a visit to Warsaw. It is also negotiating with India for a travel bubble arrangement to resume direct flights which have been suspended for nearly a year due to COVID regulations, said its envoy.
While Prime Minister Modi’s first trip abroad after the pandemic is scheduled for Bangladesh next month, he has accepted invitations to Brussels for the European Union-India summit (May 8), and to Cornwall, United Kingdom to attend the G-7 grouping where India is a special invitee (June 11-13).
“It would be a very nice move if we could have a bilateral visit at the top level from India to Poland or from Poland to India,” Ambassador Adam Burakowski told The Hindu in an interview. “The last visit of Indian Prime Minister to Poland happened more than forty years ago! The last visit of Polish President to India happened more than 20 years ago. We really have a lot to talk on this level also,” he added.
MEA officials said it is still unclear whether Mr. Modi will make any stopovers during his visits, and much depends on the coronavirus situation closer to the day. His visit to Brussels scheduled for March 13 last year was cancelled just a ahead due to the sudden spike in he cases.
At the top of the agenda for the Prime Minister’s visit this year will be to salvage free trade negotiations for the EU-India Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), which has failed to make headway since talks were suspended in 2014 over a number of issues including market access for automobiles, dairy products, wines and the movement of professionals.
“We have high expectations for the EU-India Summit that will take place in May this year. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic we shall enhance our relations and take them to higher level. BTIA is much needed to significantly improve our trade exchange and to reduce the barriers that unfortunately are still there,” Mr. Burakowski said.
On Friday, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis held the first EU-India High-Level Dialogue on Trade and Investment that would “feed into the preparation for PM’s meeting with the EU leadership, and agreed to meet again in May”, a press statement said.
Mr. Modi’s previous visit to Brussels for the EU-India summit in 2016, where he was accompanied by then Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, had failed to make headway on the resumption of talks for a free trade agreement that would benefit Indian trade with all 27 EU nations. India and Poland also held a virtual foreign office talks between their policy planning departments on January 28.
Among the issues that Poland hopes will be resolved soon is the resumption of Polish airlines LOT. The direct flights from Delhi-Warsaw had only been started in September 2019 after a gap of 25 years, when they were cancelled along with all other flights as part of the government’s lockdown measures in March 2020. Subsequently, the Ministry of Civil Aviation established “travel bubble” arrangements with 25 countries but no agreement has been reached with Poland.
“Full restoration is much needed to give a new impulse to economic and people-to-people relations. I am reading in the newspapers that India soon plans to be more open to international air traffic and I hope that Warsaw-Delhi flight will be on the list,” said Mr. Burakowski. He pointed out that not only had LOT run at 90% capacity before flights were cancelled, it facilitates thousands of Indian students and professionals based in Poland and other central European countries.