Sweden’s Gripen fighter jet is an “extremely cost effective” option for India’s plan to acquire 114 multi-role combat planes and its manufacturer Saab International is fully prepared to develop and make the aircraft in India, Swedish ambassador Klas Molin has said.
Molin also said India and the European Union (EU) should push forward with talks on the proposed broad-based Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement, adding Sweden was not discouraged by New Delhi’s recent decision to opt out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Negotiations alone can overcome “difficult” issues between the two sides, he said.
Trade and defence ties are expected to figure in the upcoming state visit to India during December 1-6 by Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, who will be accompanied by a delegation that includes foreign minister Ann Linde and business and innovation minister Ibrahim Baylan. Besides meeting President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Swedish head of state will travel to Mumbai and Uttarakhand.
Saab is among defence firms that responded to the Indian Air Force’s 2018 initial tender for 114 multi-role combat jets to be made in India through a partnership between a domestic company and a foreign manufacturer. The other contenders are France’s Rafale, F/A-18 and F-21 of the US, MiG-35 and Sukhoi-35 of Russia, and Eurofighter Typhoon.
Molin said Saab International has had a presence in India for long and had partnered with Tech Mahindra. The firm is committed to “developing and manufacturing in India” and its bid is backed by the Swedish government, he said.
“Some of the key points regarding the Gripen system is that it’s extremely cost effective, it’s a single engine aircraft, it’s multi-role and the life cycle cost, because of the way it’s been designed, makes it much less expensive than many others while maintaining quality and operability,” he said.
“It’s not a new version of something that was originally developed a long time ago. It is the newest generation of aircraft, which I think is also relevant in this discussion.”
Noting that Sweden wasn’t discouraged by India’s opting out of the RCEP, Molin said the citizens and consumers of India and Europe “would be well served by a free trade agreement, including investment protection”.
He said, “It’s working very well as it is but I think there is a clear potential and scope for more. We’ve been encouraged by commerce minister Piyush Goyal’s early statements and those of the government...there is a new (European) commissioner for trade and it’s certainly our hope that we will get on with talks that will lead to negotiations on a FTA, including investment protection.”
India’s decision on RCEP “doesn’t change our ambition and our desire for an agreement”. Acknowledging sensitivities on both sides, he said, “I think the best way forward is to sit down and map those, talk them through and have a negotiation about it because clearly there are areas historically that have been difficult and perhaps will remain so.”
Molin said healthcare, innovation, climate change, sustainable transportation, waste management, India’s smart cities programme and cyber-security will also be on the agenda during the Swedish king’s visit. The two sides will also assess progress on the eight-point Joint Action Plan finalised during Modi’s visit to Sweden last year and some MoUs will be signed.
The king will also be accompanied by a business delegation more than 100 people representing some 60 manufacturing companies. Sweden’s investments in India during 2000-2019 were worth $1.79 billion and bilateral trade in goods is worth $1.8 billion while trade in services is worth $1.4 billion.