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Cultural Diplomacy and Economic Collaborations: The Evolving Partnership between Palau and India, Neeraj Sharma shares Insights with ObserveNow

New Delhi: Palau and India maintain diplomatic relations marked by a shared commitment to addressing pressing global issues, with a particular focus on environmental and sustainable development initiatives. The two nations actively collaborate to tackle challenges such as climate change, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable resource management.This partnership extends beyond environmental concerns to encompass a robust economic and cultural exchange. 

Palau and India engage in efforts to strengthen economic ties, fostering trade and investment opportunities. Additionally, cultural exchanges contribute to a deeper understanding between the peoples of both countries, enhancing bilateral relations. Together, Palau and India strive to build a comprehensive and resilient partnership that reflects their shared values and aspirations for a sustainable future. In this regard, Shivani Babbar, ObserveNow interacted with Neeraj Sharma, Honorary Consul General of Palau.

Here are a few excerpts from the interview:

Can you provide an overview of the current diplomatic relations between Palau and India? How has the relationship evolved over the years?

India established diplomatic relations with Palau in 1995. Since then, discussions with Palau’s political leadership have been consistent. Palau, with a history shaped by European interactions, transitioned from Spanish to German, then Japanese control, before gaining sovereignty in 1994. The Indian Mission in Manila is concurrently accredited to Palau. India engages in routine dialogues with the Pacific Islands Forum, where Palau holds a key position. Bilateral trade, mainly in pharmaceuticals, saw USD 30,000 in exports from India to Palau in 2013-14. Palau supports India in international organizations and backed India’s UN Security Council bid. Presently, Palau hosts around 6-80 Indian nationals, an Indian restaurant named Taj Palau, and an Honorary Consul of India, Robert Scaria. Palau actively participates in global partnerships and joined the International Solar Alliance in 2019. Its economy focuses on tourism, fishing, and subsistence agriculture. Despite challenges, fiscal consolidation efforts have stabilized Palau’s economy. India, associated with the Pacific Island Forum, participated actively in the 45th Forum in Palau in 2014. Friendly relations between Palau and India, established in 1995, have strengthened over the years, with collaborative efforts within the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation framework playing a significant role. In June 2019, Honorable Neeraj A Sharma became the Honorary Consul General of Palau in India, reinforcing diplomatic ties.

Palau is renowned for its rich biodiversity and commitment to environmental conservation. How does the Republic of Palau collaborate with India on environmental and sustainable development initiatives?

Palau, an archipelago of over 576 islands in the western tropical Pacific Ocean, shelters a diverse array of plants and animals, many facing endangerment or exclusive to its borders. The environment is pivotal in Palau, shaping its culture and economy. A significant part of the population relies on natural resources for subsistence and as a key support for tourism, the nation’s primary income source. Due to the fundamental role the environment plays in livelihoods, culture, and global biodiversity, Palau actively explores innovative and sustainable resource management approaches. The nation is dedicated to developing strategies ensuring responsible resource use and balancing economic development with environmental preservation. The UN Environment initiative, “Advancing sustainable resource management to improve livelihoods and protect biodiversity in Palau,” aims to strengthen Palau’s governance and management of interconnected land and marine ecosystems in the context of small island development. Supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and overseen by Palau’s Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism, the project runs from 2017 to 2021, garnering steadfast backing from the Palauan States and various national-level partners. Its primary focus is to enhance Palau’s protected areas and ensure the effective implementation of sustainable land management practices through improved coordination mechanisms across government levels, fostering improved livelihoods and biodiversity conservation.

As the Honorary Consul General, what role do you play in promoting economic and cultural ties between Palau and India? Are there specific areas of focus or potential areas for collaboration?

In 1995, India and Palau forged diplomatic ties. Over the years, India has consistently demonstrated its backing for Palau’s endeavors, spanning marine conservation, skill development, and healthcare. Palau expresses gratitude for India’s enduring commitment and eagerness to actively participate in diverse initiatives. After the appointment of the Honorary Consul General in June 2019, he along with his team have been trying to channel their efforts to enhance the bilateral trade and relations between both peace-loving nations. Next year we will be celebrating 30 years of Diplomatic ties between Palau and India.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in people-to-people exchanges between nations. Are there any ongoing cultural or educational exchange programs between Palau and India? How can such exchanges be further strengthened?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent trip to Papua New Guinea (PNG) significantly bolstered India’s diplomatic influence, statesmanship, and collaborative efforts in the Pacific region. The fruitful day-long visit centered on the 3rd Summit of the Forum for India-Pacific Island Cooperation, allowed New Delhi to reiterate its commitment to supporting the priorities of Pacific Island nations, garnering notable recognition on the global diplomatic stage. During the visit, Palau’s President, Surangel Whipps, Jr., presented an Ebakl, symbolizing leadership and wisdom, further emphasizing India’s strengthened ties worldwide.  In recognition of PM, Modi’s endeavors to foster unity among Pacific Island nations and champion the cause of the Global South,..

Are there any upcoming events, collaborations, or milestones in the diplomatic relationship between Palau and India that you would like to highlight?

According to the most recent assessments by S&P Global, India’s economy is set to attain a growth rate of 6.5 percent in the fiscal year 2024-25, followed by a projected increase to 7 percent in 2026. Data from the quarter ending in September indicated a year-on-year expansion of 7.6 percent in the Indian economy. This positions the country as an appealing destination for foreign investment, poised to surpass China’s growth projection of less than 5 percent in 2024. Even according to the conservative estimates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India is projected to become the world’s third-largest economy by 2027, exceeding Japan and Germany, with a GDP surpassing US$5 trillion. This certainly is expected to have a cascading effect on Palau- India economic relations.

Palau is looking to enhance its engagement further with India, especially after PM Modi’s initiative for Global South. We hope to increase bilateral trade and tourism, and special focus is now on hosting destination weddings for Indians. Palau also offers opportunities in Agriculture, Poultry & Meats, Food processing, Education, and Information Technology.