India and Belarus today inked 10 pacts to expand cooperation in a range of areas and decided to explore joint development and manufacturing in the defence sector.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Belarus President A G Lukashenko, who held extensive talks, also agreed to focus on ramping up economic engagement between the two countries, holding that there was huge scope to boost trade and investment.
The pacts inked provided for enhancing bilateral cooperation in a variety of areas, including oil and gas, agriculture, science and technology, education and sports.
Modi described the discussions as wide-ranging and forward-looking and said they were marked by the warmth of ties of over two and a half decades.
"We exchanged views on bilateral issues and on regional and global developments. We reviewed the architecture of our partnership. We considered ideas and initiatives for further expanding it," Modi told reporters after the talks.
Modi said both sides agreed to encourage joint development and manufacturing in the defence sector under the Make in India initiative.
He said there was progress on discussion on utilising the USD 100 million line of credit India had offered in 2015 for implementing specific projects in Belarus.
"We decided to enhance the interaction in all aspects of cooperation. I found in President Lukashenko matching enthusiasm and desire to scale up our partnership for the benefit of our people," Modi said.
On his part, the Belarusian president said the two countries were at the doorstep of a "new stage" of cooperation.
Inviting Indian investors to Belarus, Lukashenko said his government was ready to provide them the most favourable and ideal conditions for doing business.
Discussing trade potential, Modi said there were abundant business and investment opportunities in various sectors, including in pharmaceuticals and oil and gas.
"Our companies have to evolve from a buyer-seller framework to deeper engagement," he said, adding that both sides would work to diversify economic linkages and the focus would be to build upon the natural complementarity between the two countries.
In this context, Modi also mentioned India's on- going negotiations with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) for a free trade agreement. Belarus is part of the five member- EEU, considered an influential central Asian bloc.
The volume of bilateral trade in 2016 amounted to USD 402 million approximately.
Asserting that he advocated and promoted the idea of a multi-polar world, Lukashenko expressed the hope that India would become a "mightful pole" in the multi-polar world.
A stamp commemorating 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries was also released by the India Post and postal department of Belarus.
The two sides also agreed to close cooperation on on "matters of mutual interest" in multilateral fora.
India is linked with Belarus under multilateral economic initiatives such as the Eurasian Economic Union and the International North South Transport Corridor.
"The seriousness of our intention can be proved by the fact that during the visit we initiated Investment Protection Agreement between India and Belarus and secondly I can promise my support for finalising the free zone between India and Eurasian Economic Union," Lukashenko said.
Noting that science and technology was another area of stronger cooperation between the two countries, Modi noted that Belarus was a long-time partner in the field and innovation.
Belarus is known for powder metallurgy. India has an advanced research centre in powder metallurgy in Hyderabad, established with the help of Eurasian nation.
Modi said the two sides were also exploring setting up of a technology demonstration centre in India to showcase Belarusian technology.