- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 October 31, 2003 

Hye Profile: India's Ambassador seeks to win hearts and investment in Armenia

India's Ambassador Deepak Vohra is looking forward to strengthening Indian-Armenian relationship.

Enter India's embassy in Yerevan on Wednesdays and the only language you will hear being spoken is Armenian.

Ambassador Deepak Vohra took just six months after his arrival in Yerevan to become fluent. He initiated the Armenian-only days at the embassy to encourage his five fellow Indian diplomats to do the same.

"Anyone who wants to talk to me on Wednesdays can do so only in Armenian. If my colleagues have an urgent matter to discuss, I see them asking my secretaries 'how do I say this?'" the Ambassador says, laughing.

"All of us are fluent in Armenian now, we find it very useful and it opens doors to Armenian hearts for us."

Opening doors to trade and investment is Vohra's main task in Yerevan. President Kocharyan's state visit to India this week accompanied by a strong business delegation has underscored the potential importance of the Asian giant in the economic life of Armenia.

"We are looking forward to strengthening our relationship in several areas," says Vohra, outlining what he calls India's 4 plus 1 strategy towards Armenia.

"We have identified four areas where we are strong and where Armenia wants to build up these sectors, so the synergy is perfect. One is Information Technology, which we are world leaders in, the second is small and medium businesses, where again we are world leaders with more than 5 million registered businesses.

"Number three is agriculture, and particular sub-sectors such as dry land farming. Armenia is water-stressed and we have done a lot of work in India on dry land farming and rainwater harvesting. Fourth is science and technology."

The "plus one" in the formula is encouragement for Indian companies to invest in export-oriented sectors of Armenia's economy.

Ambassadorial couple with the president of Armenia Robert Kocharyan.

Sterlite Industries of India took over Ararat Gold Recovery Company in 1999 in a $30 million investment. The Indian-owned Rosy Blue company also employs 1,000 people in the diamond polishing and cutting industry in Armenia.

"Now we are trying to encourage Indian investment in leather because there is a large market for leather in CIS countries."

One of the attractions of Armenia for India is that goods produced in the republic are permitted to enter CIS markets without customs duties, while its companies also enjoy open access to the European Union and the United States. Quotas restrict industries in India such as textiles, but shifting production to Armenia would allow them to get around these limits.

"We can find specialist labor here without any difficulty. The level of literacy is 99 per cent and Armenians are very hard-working people," says Vohra. "That is not to say there are no constraints."

One of the most frustrating is the continued secrecy of government officials in relation to even the simplest request for information. Economic data that are openly available in India are treated almost as state secrets by Yerevan bureaucrats.

"We always suggest to the Armenian Government that there should be greater openness and transparency, particularly on the availability of information. That is crucial," Vohra says.

"If I need to know my trade figures with Armenia, I must first write an official note to the Foreign Ministry, which sends it to the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development, which sends it to the Statistical Service. By the time I get the information it is out of date.

"India's trade day to day with different countries you can see on a hundred websites. This is a constraint in Armenia and I have said to all concerned without mincing words that they should make it more open."

October 30. Within the framework of official visit to India President Kocharyan attended the opening ceremony of the new building of Armenian Embassy in Delhi.

Although present volumes remain low - bilateral trade was a mere $4.6 million in 2002 - efforts are being made to stimulate more business contacts.

The embassy has been exploring ways to place Armenian IT entrepreneurs in successful Indian companies on internships, while a visit of Indian experts to Yerevan is planned for this year.

The first ever business delegation from India to Armenia in April this year resulted in Indian rice and sugar entering the local market. The first contract for direct export of Indian cut and polished diamonds to Armenia was also signed.

Nor is trade the only relationship. Vohra has responsibility for assisting one of the larger populations of foreign nationals in Armenia, thanks to the 400 or so Indian students enrolled at Yerevan State Medical University.

"Education in India is 100 per cent private so we have nothing to do with this. We don't encourage or discourage, they come because they can't get admission in India," he says.

Less than 10 per cent of applicants to medical schools in India are accepted and many of the rest study abroad, in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and CIS countries including Armenia. Vohra says most seem very happy in Yerevan, but notes some problems for the future.

India introduced a new certification test in 2002 for nationals qualifying as doctors abroad, which must be passed before they can practice medicine. Of more than 100 graduates from Yerevan State Medical University who have taken the test so far, just one has passed.

"In our interactions with the university, we have said that for their Indian students they might want to reorient the educational system to meet the requirements of the exam," Vohra says. The unspoken message is that the flow of students might cease if the course isn't changed, as word of the failure rate gets around.

One immediate result of President Kocharyan's visit will be an increase in the flow of students in the other direction. The Indian Government announced today that it is increasing the number of fully funded scholarships offered to Armenian nationals from 10 to 40 to study in the country.

According to Agnes
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This week Armenia was commemorating the fourth anniversary of October 27 terroristic act in Armenian parliament and paying tribute to its victims. Among others Stepan Demirchyan visited the cemetery and laid flowers on the grave of his father, late speaker of National Assembly Karen Demirchyan.



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