Dinesh K. Patnaik has been at the helm of the Indian embassy in Spain for almost two years now and has a clear objective: to make the potential of both countries known at all levels. Aware of the growth of his country, which this year became the most populated in the world, he argues that Spanish companies that want to be global must be present in India.
As he emphasizes in an interview with Go Aragón in his office at the embassy in Madrid, Spanish companies cannot miss the opportunity to take advantage of this growth.
You have been at the head of the Embassy since January 16, 2022. What have these months been like?
I took office in January 2022 and the first week of February I was received by the King, which means that I have been here for a year and ten months. It has been a wonderful period in which I have discovered Spain as a place where India should be able to do many more things.
Fortunately, we have very good relations with Spain, but these relations can be even better, because in Spain there are still many people who are not aware of India’s potential. And, on the other hand, when Indians look to Europe they tend to look to other countries and not so much to Spain.
For this reason, we are building bridges to unite companies and people: businessmen, politicians, academics, university students, people from the world of culture… The aim is for people from India and Spain to get to know each other better.
WE ARE BUILDING BRIDGES TO BRING COMPANIES AND PEOPLE TOGETHER.
What are the main challenges you face?
The challenge has to do entirely with information. In Spain, information about India is limited and, in India, information about Spain is also limited.
I can give many examples. For example, very few people in India know that Spain is one of the largest defense exporters in the world. When they think of the country, they think of beach, party, vacations… The knowledge is very limited and the same thing happens in Spain about India: they see an exotic country, but they do not see a country where you can do business, a country at the forefront of technology and that has just landed an unmanned spacecraft on the south pole of the moon, something that has had a lot of coverage in Spain.
The knowledge is more among businessmen, academics and politicians, but not among most people. So my biggest challenge is to be able to educate people about the different aspects of India. Of course, they know India, but in a general way: yoga, Bollywood… But there are more strengths: technology, trade, business… That’s my big challenge.
At present, how are the relations between India and Spain?
Relations are very good, we don’t have any problems. But that is not the issue. Relations are not built on the basis that there are no problems, they are built on something else.
So, we need to build that relationship where we can trust each other, where we can do business, where our companies work together, where our trade reaches high positions. The presence of Indian business in the Spanish ecosystem is still very low, and the same goes the other way around. Our politicians also need to get to know each other.
I always say that Christopher Columbus left Spain to get to India, and he still hasn’t found it! He got to America, but Spain is still trying to find India (laughs). So, I think my task, yours and everyone’s task is to help Spain find India and India find Spain.
INDIA’S BUSINESS PRESENCE IN THE SPANISH ECOSYSTEM IS STILL VERY LOW, AND THE SAME GOES THE OTHER WAY AROUND.
This 2023, India holds the presidency of the G20 and Spain the presidency of the Council of the European Union, during this second half of the year. what are the main challenges you face?
Of course, there are many things we have planned for the G20. This presidency is a way to show the world how far India has come and also to focus on issues that are very important to the world.
The G20 started with an economic and financial focus, but over the years it has become more political. We wanted to go back to the core issues: how we solve economic and financial problems, how we deal with sustainability issues, the environment, the green transition or the digital transition. These are some of the areas we wanted to focus on.
With the Spanish presidency there are also issues that we can work together with, again, green transition, digitalization, sustainability or making supply chains more resilient. And, most importantly, working together for a free trade agreement. But, unfortunately, because of the issues of the political situation, Spain has not had the capacity to do some things that it is willing to do. We have done a lot, but we could have done more.
China ceased to be the most populated country at the beginning of 2023 and India took the lead. Right now, moreover, it is the fifth largest economy in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). What do these changes mean?
We are the most populous country and the fifth largest economic power in the world, and we will soon become the third largest. The situation is very propitious for us: we have the right combination today.
If you look at the rest of the world, there are GDP growth problems and we are the only ones with high GDP growth, low inflation and high employment. All these positive things are happening together at the same time.
In fact, I don’t think the population is a burden, I think it is an asset. We have a very young population and we have to manage this issue well. I’m sure we will because the prime minister and our government are focused on how to make them ready enough to face the problems of the world. So I think if we manage the population issue well it will be a great asset to the world. Even today if you look at the CEOs of the “top” companies, like Microsoft, Google or Starbucks, you find an Indian at the top.
In fact, Indians are a community that every country wants to attract because they are talented, smart, hardworking and they don’t create social and political problems in the country. So, in that sense, India, as the most populous country and third largest economy, we will contribute to the global economy as well as global stability.
I DON’T THINK POPULATION IS A BURDEN, I THINK IT IS AN ASSET.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that you are going to be the fastest growing economic power in the next few years. Is your country noticing this?
We are growing slower than we expected, even though we are the fastest growing. We need to grow faster if we want to give our people the benefits of progress and that is why the government is working hard every day to implement policies to ensure that the Indian economy grows as fast as possible.
But we live in a globalized world and our growth is also dependent on the global economy. So this growth is being constrained because global economic growth has slowed down because of the war in Ukraine and rising prices. Now, also in the Middle East. So all of this is going to have an effect on our economy, even though it’s still the fastest growing. So we can imagine how fast it could grow without the above issues.
As for trade relations with Spain, how are they?
Very good, we have trade relations for almost 8,000 million dollars and we have hundreds of Spanish companies in India working in fields such as chemicals or communications. There are some interesting areas of collaboration such as defense or space, which is a new field.
In general, relations are very good, but very good is not enough, they have to be excellent to reach a better situation.
This newspaper is organizing a Cycle of Conferences on Business Opportunities in Asia. One of the sessions, in Zaragoza, was dedicated to India. Do you have any advice for Aragonese businessmen who want to invest in the country?
In general, the same as for any entrepreneur: do the paperwork well, know your market, do a good research, be clear about the product you want to sell, buy or produce, hire the right people?
Specifically about India, I can say that Spanish companies that want to be global have to be present in India, and we cannot make the mistake of waiting for India to grow even more to get there.
We have companies from all over Europe -Germany, Italy, France, the United Kingdom or the Netherlands- that have already established themselves in India. Companies in Spain cannot miss the opportunity to take advantage of this growth.
So I invite all companies seeking information to approach Go Aragon or the embassy. Right now we have just launched a Chamber of Commerce to advise on different issues and we hope to have an event in Zaragoza soon.
SPANISH COMPANIES CANNOT MISS THE OPPORTUNITY TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS GROWTH.
What do you think are the most interesting sectors in which Spanish companies can add value?
The sectors in which Spanish companies are most focused are renewable energies, engineering, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, as well as information technology. But the future belongs to the defense industry. As I said, very few are aware of the defense market in Spain. And right now Indian defense is looking for partners.
In fact, we have just placed an order with Airbus for 56 aircraft, we are negotiating on submarines and ships. Also in terms of missiles and radars, we know that they have a huge market.
The same goes for space technology at a time when both space and cyberspace are the future. In terms of space technology, India is a great power, we have just landed on the moon when other countries failed to do so. Spain also has an important industry in this regard, with satellite and rocket launches. This is an area in which we can work together.
Another aspect we share is film production. In Spain it is very big and in India we produce almost 3,000 films a year. That’s another thing we can work together on, but also in computing or in the gaming industry.
And, of course, continue with the traditional sectors, such as agriculture or pharmaceuticals.
According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), there are 51,440 people of Indian origin in Spain, 225 are in Aragon. From what you have been able to observe at the embassy, what are the profiles of these residents?
There are two profiles of citizens. On the one hand, some who came a long time ago and became Spanish citizens. Most of them come from a specific area of India. They also helped build the Spanish economy.
But now the professionals who arrive work in very different areas, such as IT, pharmaceuticals, engineering, management, human resources… And they all like Spain, not only because it is a good country to live in, but also because we share cultural particularities, such as that we are very family-oriented people, who are happy working and enjoying at the same time.
An important part are the students, how is the exchange with Spain?
Yes, there are more and more students coming to Spain, but not many if we compare it with other countries, such as Germany, where between 10,000 and 15,000 students come every year, or France, the Netherlands, of course the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia.
In Spain there are about 2,000-3,000 a year, which is very few considering the quality of the universities in the country. So I think Spain has to work to attract more Indian students.
The main gap is the language gap, but now there are many Indians learning Spanish and we have one of the largest Cervantes Institutes, which is opening new centers. So I hope there will be more and more Spanish-speaking Indians who can enjoy the Spanish education system and work here.
SO I HOPE THAT MORE AND MORE SPANISH-SPEAKING INDIANS CAN ENJOY THE SPANISH EDUCATION SYSTEM AND WORK HERE.
In the talk organized by Go Aragón about India, it was underlined how well educated young Indians are. How do you perceive it?
We have many qualified students in different areas: from engineers to doctors or technology experts. The point is that there is a great demand for these professionals because India is growing and the world is growing.
Now we are talking with the government to sign a migration and mobility agreement, so if we can reach this agreement, Spain would be able to attract the best talent from India without the problem of immigration, because it would be legal immigration.
If we talk about culture, this November ‘Olé India’ is being held in Madrid, a festival that allows you to learn more about Indian culture. What are the most appreciated aspects of your culture here?
Spaniards know Indian culture quite well: yoga, meditation, everything related to spirituality… I have discovered here that it is followed above all by women, who also know Indian jewelry or its textile industry, which are among the most exported products. They also know our music or our dances, both Bollywood and traditional.
In fact, when I arrived here, I was surprised that there were Indian movies in the movie theaters. And it is also curious how, especially during the pandemic, audiovisual productions came to India: for example, ‘The House of Paper’ is very well known.
Also, as I mentioned before, the Cervantes Institute in India is one of the largest, so everyone knows about things like flamenco, for example.
So yes, there is a lot of cooperation between Spain and India, something that does not translate so much to that of governments, where it needs to be promoted more. However, with people, it happens automatically.
India is a vast country with countless tourist attractions, is growth expected in this area?
Domestic tourism is growing much more than foreign tourism. To give some figures, foreign tourism is about 12 million visitors, but domestic tourism is between 250-300 million.
So we are focusing on making a better tourism promotion, because we have wonderful places to offer with many options: heritage, adventure tourism, nature, mountains, skiing, desert… We have it all! So the idea is to make vacation packages oriented to internal tourism, but also external.
You are on your way to two years in Spain, have you been able to visit part of the country? And Aragon?
Of course I have! In these almost two years I have visited many corners of the country, including your region. From the Canary Islands to Galicia or the Basque Country, passing through Catalonia or Ceuta and Melilla. I have also been to Aragon, including a visit to the Monasterio de Piedra, and Zaragoza, but I have not yet made a formal visit, which I think will come soon.
Personally, what do you like most about this country?
What I like most are the people. They are also very warm and familiar, they speak openly and there is no discrimination. They are very warm and friendly people, in fact, here is the only place where I have more Spanish friends than Indian friends.
Also, I am in love with Spanish food. I have tried many things and I love to discover how the food is very different depending on the area, Galician food is not the same as the food from Andalusia or the Canary Islands. And, of course, also the wine. So I’ll keep these three: the food, the wine and the people.
WHAT I LIKE MOST ABOUT SPAIN ARE THE PEOPLE.
Finally, what do you miss about your country?
I am used to learning many new things about the country where I live and, in this way, you don’t miss your country so much. But here in Spain I am very happy because it reminds me a lot of my country: the concept of friendship is similar, the love for food or even the habit of having dinner late.
I feel very comfortable here, so I don’t miss India so much when I am in Spain. Still, what I miss most, again, are the people, the friends, the relatives….
I am very happy because my wife is also here, in Spain, and my two daughters are one in the US and one in the UK, so we are close and we can see each other.
Here, I’m looking forward to visiting Zaragoza again, meeting everyone and organizing more events together.