Caspian Week - as Horasis' strategic partner - actively participated in annual Horasis India Meeting

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On July 24, 2021, Caspian Week - as Horasis' strategic partner - actively participated in annual Horasis India Meeting, co-hosted by HORASIS: the Global Visions Community and the Confederation of Indian Industries. This virtual event was co-chaired by Murat Seitnepesov, Chairman of the Caspian Week Forum.

India's economic growth continued to be one of the strongest in the world, averaging 7.4% until 2018/19. Since the first half of 2019, growth has been weaker. Economic indicators suggest that India has put the COVID-19 shock behind it.

Below you can find more on our key sessions:

The first session, Indian Exploration of Trade with the Greater Caspian Region was devoted to the trade and investment facilitation between India and the Greater Caspian Region (GCR). Murat Seitnepesov (Chairman of Caspian Week and President of Greater Caspian Association, Switzerland) made a brief presentation of the economic potential of India and the GCR. According to Rakesh Gaur (President - Railways, Kalpataru Power Transmission and Co-Chair of the Central Asian Committee of CII, India) GCR market is very important for India, both in terms of energy security and a as a gateway to the CIS as well as to Europe. India can offer health care services to the GCR countries; other areas of possible cooperation include energy construction projects, and education & training.

However, the consumer market is still to be explored, and a lot of countries in the Caspian area are in need of geopolitical stabilization. Sham Bathija (Former Minister and Senior Advisor for Economic Affairs to the President of Afghanistan) supported this comment saying that political issues are faced not only by the GCR but the whole South Asian region. The Afghan situation for example should be taken care of by the whole Caspian region, and Turkey has also an important role to play.

According to Mr. Gaur, connectivity is becoming a major challenge as soon as the political situation changes. The second issue is with the banks who don't want to face any problems with the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The third issue is the investment climate, which is not very friendly. Another major problem is visa requirements and air connectivity.

Mr. Bathija further elaborated on the connectivity problem. The heart of the whole thing is the transit issue. India has invested a lot in Chabahar port, and if a road was built in the Zaranj area and then in the Kandahar area, it would be fantastic. Another solution could be to link directly the ports of Bombay or Kolkata to Chabahar, even with small and medium vessels.

Gulnara Salimova (President and Managing Director, Uzbek-Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry) joined in discussion of the importance of connectivity. Uzbekistan is located right in the middle of Central Asia. Seven international corridors exist, and further corridors are being developed to connect Uzbekistan to the neighboring countries. Ms. Salimova also remarked that the full potential of the economical ties between India and Uzbekistan is not yet reached. There are several industries in which Uzbekistan is keen to develop cooperation with India. One of them is the pharmaceutical sector. Uzbekistan has seven free economic zones just for this industry. Another one is the medical sector; lots of Uzbek patients go to India. Indian companies also expressed interest in being involved in the projects of airports construction and reconstruction, agriculture, and textiles sector.

In conclusion, Mr. Seitnepesov referred to other GCR countries. In Azerbaijan, a "one window service" called ASAN was established. Azerbaijan also created a free trade zone and three industrial zones with a very moderate tax regime. In Kazakhstan, Astana became an international financial center that accepted English law and English arbitration for the resolution of disputes. Georgia effectively digitalized the government and the economy. In sum, these are countries with a really good investment and business climate where Indian investors could come and do business.

During the second session, Boosting Supply Chain Viability for Competitive Advantage the discussion was focused on how the digitization of supply could help Indian small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to decrease their cost of sourcing.

Shamika Sirimanne (Director, Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD) described in details the multifaceted red tape that the SMEs encounter in doing international trade. It is very difficult for the SMEs to find appropriate information, obtain permits and licenses, and get logistics services. As a result, many SMEs would not dare get into international trade. Shreekant Somany (Chairman and Managing Director, Somany Ceramics and Chairman of MSME National Council of CII, India) added that the hindrances are technology and especially digitization. What needs to be addressed according to Ashok Saigal (Managing Director, Frontier Technologies, and Co-Chairman of MSME National Council of CII, India) is freight rates – "currently, we're paying about 10 000 dollars to ship a 40-foot container from India to Europe when the goods in that container may cost 40 000 dollars". Another issue for MSMEs is finance facilitation. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has facilitated the MSMEs to put their applications in the format which is bankable.

The solution as seen by Ms. Sirimanne may be to create an SME National Council. Many of the trade barriers cannot be addressed by the private sector; it has to be a part of a public-private partnership. All the WTO Members should have a National Trade Facilitation Committee, which is supposed to address the forms of red tape. Another area to explore is digital solutions, in particular in customs automation. UNCTAD has automated customs in about a hundred developing countries, and it has also created a "single window" for traders. UNCTAD has also created Trade Information Portals in more than 40 countries. The potential of e-commerce could be explored, but to get there one needs to be able to have some digital skills, to create a platform and especially an e-payment system. The last thing is the logistic network.

Mr. Somany reminded that there are currently 65 million MSMEs in India who are employing 120 million people. They account for 40% of the exports and 42% of the GDP. Bringing MSMEs into global supply chains is an important task. There are clusters of industries that can already be made into a fruitful global supply chain, for example, the automobile industry, the textile industry, other engineering industries, and farm industries. Mr. Saigal echoed by stating that India is seen to have tremendous potential for 20 years, and time has now come to convert that potential into reality. India can offer several competitive advantages to any potential buyer: 1) communication in English, 2) transparency - you can walk into any part of India, talk to your customer and see things firsthand, 3) facilities capable of producing technically sophisticated and good quality products, 4) proximity to Europe.

However there's a lot of work that needs to be done to ease doing business for MSMEs. Cristiano Fibbi (Head of Strategy, Integral Group, Switzerland) presented a business model which directly and efficiently addresses the concerns raised by other speakers by connecting producers in the GCR with the end-users worldwide via container transportation. Indian SMEs do not have direct access to producers; they have to deal with very fragmented and incomplete information. Either they buy from a long chain of intermediaries, or they try to bulk up and build a bigger order which raises the price. They lack a structured export channel. The solution was to create Integral Commodities, a webshop where exporters can get direct access to worldwide customers which are mainly SMEs. The key thing is that Indian SMEs can order small container volumes that get delivered directly to their factory or the farm. They can also make payment and trace the delivery completely online. Logistics becomes critical, thus Caspian Container Company was created. It offers its containers for regional exporters and stabilizes the flow and the prices.

Stephen Edkins (Chief Executive Officer, Rice Exchange, Singapore) offered a specific example of the Rice Exchange, a global digital marketplace for rice that is present in over 30 countries around the world. It has a proper database of producers which are certified by inspection companies.

At the final part of the discussion, Mr. Somany and Mr. Saigal answered questions raised by Mahesh K. Kotecha (CEO of Structured Credit International Corporation) and Raghav Kanori (Partner, Anchor Group, Switzerland).

Panelists of the third session, How do we Detect the Next Dangerous Virus - before it's too late? explored the question of whether we could create a global system to be prepared to identify and limit "Disease X". Murat Seitnepesov (Chairman of Caspian Week and President of Greater Caspian Association) presented the ideology and stages of the GSPDX project which was officially launched on 18 March 2021 during Horasis Extraordinary meeting. No doubt that the next pandemic will come; it's just a matter of time. The question is, which pathogen will cause it, and how could it be detected at the earliest possible stage. Mr. Seitnepesov pointed out that in Barcelona the COVID-19 virus was present nine months before official detection.

José Ramón Calvo (President, Institute of Multidisciplinary Research, Spain) believes that GSPDX will be a milestone in the fight against pandemics in the future. There were several pandemics in the past – the plague in the Middle Ages and the Spanish Flu in the middle of the First World War. The only way to fight against these pandemics was a lockdown. The advancement of science from the Middle Ages to the present time is obvious, but the way to resolve the situation is the same. We have an opportunity to go a step forward. The idea to look for a combination of symptomatic data opens up a whole new area of research. Mathematical algorithms are highly scientific, and they are more critical today than any other source of information.

Vesselin Popovski (Professor and Vice Dean of Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University, India) underlined that today was the right time to launch the project. He identified five big gaps that existed in governance and pandemics: 1) leadership gap; 2) the gap of international cooperation; 3) the gap in medical capacity; 4) the gap in the human-human relationship; 5) the test of the human relationship with nature. One issue is how data privacy and human rights can be linked together to regulate the future pandemic. There is also the need to have international law. Artificial intelligence needs to be properly regulated through new international legislation. He reiterated his proposal to create a new Health Security Council, which could accelerate the work of the WHO. It could consist of 25 members who would drive the process and operate daily to adopt and enforce the regulations.

In response to the question from Murat Seitnepesov, Prof. Popovski confirmed the importance of having a public-private partnership not only for health issues but also for Sustainable Development Goals. 20 years ago the United Nations created the Global Compact, which brought together more than 5000 companies. Governments have the power to enforce the rules and ensure the compliance of citizens, and the private sector drives individual initiative, entrepreneurship, and intellectual property.

Claude Beglé (Chairman, Symbioswiss, Switzerland) made it clear that the GSPDX project was not for the prevention of the next pandemic, but early detection. The project has two phases, with two key benefits. The first phase is the known diseases. Data is collected in any big gathering – airport, commercial center, football match - without touching people. You only stop those who show symptoms, and they go to a hospital. And in the hospital, you have step two, which is the prevention of the potential next disease. Mr. Beglé also noted that the factor of personal data protection was paramount. It is easier to collect data in some countries than in others. He agreed that GSPDX should be a combination of private sector and government, a combination of high tech and civil services. He fully supported the idea of the Health Security Council.

Manuel Carballo (Executive Director, ICMHD, Switzerland) pointed out that the GSPDX project should be seen as predictive, not as clinically detective. Pandemics still take countries by surprise. In his opinion, the main reasons for that were the lack of interest by policymakers and the difficulty in interpreting scientific data to policymakers and the general public. Pandemic is controversial both at the political and scientific levels. It was important not only to detect a new virus but also to ensure political action at all levels to combat that virus. Testing at the airport is important, but not the only part of GSPDX. The project should be public health-oriented. The beauty of GSPDX is a mathematical approach, but beneath there should be a strong public health component. India has excellent scientists, but it was still caught unprepared by COVID-19. Indian authorities have not taken into account social, economic, and demographic factors that could lead to new viruses. The next pandemic may emerge in urban slums.

Best regards,
Caspian Week Team