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Foreign Secretary’s Remarks on ‘Bharat@75: Empowering India: Today for Tomorrow’ at the Annual General Meeting and Annual Session of The Indian Chamber of Commerce

November 24, 2021

Shri Vikash Agarwal, President, Indian Chamber of Commerce
Shri Rudra Chatterjee, Past President, Indian Chamber of Commerce
Dr. Rajeev Singh, Director General, Indian Chamber of Commerce
Members of the Indian Chamber of Commerce

Namaskar and good afternoon. It is a privilege for me to be speak at the Indian Chamber of Commerce.

2. It has been my good fortune to have had a close association with this Chamber. I have interacted with members of the Chamber in several of my assignments abroad. These links continue. It is therefore a pleasure for me to address today’s session.

3. As Chambers of Commerce go, the Indian Chamber of Commerce is unique. Its creation, almost a hundred years ago, in 1925, was the result of the efforts of a number of patriotic businessmen led by Shri Ghanshyam Das Birla. It was located in Kolkata, then still the capital of India. The history of the chamber, and its location, contribute to its uniqueness.

4. Kolkata has a special place in India’s economic history. It was home to some of the most enterprising Indians and some of the best known Indian businesses during a critical phase of our national journey. It became one of the leading commercial centres and provided a critical mass of entrepreneurial spirit.

5. Institutions represent our hopes and our realities. The Indian Chamber of Commerce, when it was founded, was an aspirational institution. It represented, in its time, the idea that is contained in the subject of today’s meeting – that of empowering India and Indians and of "Today for Tomorrow”.

6. The India of today, or India@75, is very different from the India of 1925. It is the tomorrow that the founders of this institution worked towards.

7. That India would have a role in world affairs would have been little more than an aspiration at the time this Chamber was founded. India was still a subject nation and independence, a distant dream. Independence, the trauma of Partition, and the struggles of emerging nationhood were in the future.

8. India has traversed a long journey. It has been a difficult journey and many more challenges lie ahead. There is, however, much to be proud of. We are a country with a track record of resilience, of achievement and of constant endeavour. We remain an aspirational country. We remain a country that wants to make a difference. We remain a country that will not be daunted by the challenges before us.

9. A decisive, visionary and resolute leadership, a whole of government approach to addressing issues before us and strong societal support have enabled us to surmount major challenges and look proudly to the future.

10. We meet in the shadow of the pandemic. The past two years have been, in some ways, among the most challenging in living memory.

11. Yet, paradoxically, this is a moment of opportunity. All crises are followed by periods of growth.

12. New businesses, institutions and systems arise to replace and supplement those that have failed.

13. The Indian economy, you are all aware, has returned to the high growth path. India’s GDP grew by over 20% in the first quarter of 2021-22.

14. You will also be aware that India has received record FDI inflows in the recent past.

15. A record number of unicorns have been created during this period in the start-up space.

16. A whole new digital economy has emerged that is poised to drive further growth.

17. India is becoming a renewable energy powerhouse, beginning an energy transition and moving in the direction of creating a new green economy.

18. Our national vaccination drive which has dispensed over a billion Covid vaccination doses in record time is a remarkable display of national capacity.

19. All of these point in the direction of a post-pandemic economy that will differ significantly from existing realities.

20. These economic shifts are taking place in the midst of what has been described as "rebalancing.” Very high growth rates in Asian countries, including India, have moved the center of economic gravity of the world towards Asia.

21. This has geo-political and geo-economic consequences.

22. The Indo-Pacific region, which extends from the shores of America to the east coast of Africa, and includes the Indian Ocean region, is now a major focus of global attention. It generates almost 60 % of the worlds economic output. It also contributes 70% of global economic growth.

23. We deal with this new reality through mechanisms and constructs such as the Quad.

24. As you would be aware, the Quad Summit took place soon after the Indian presidency of the United Nations Security Council. It also took place around the same time as Indian presidencies of BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Prime Minister attending the G7 Summit. It was followed by Prime Minister attending the United Nations General Assembly, the G20 Summit and COP 26.

25. This series of important and high level diplomatic engagements occurred as we turn 75 as a nation. This is being celebrated across the country and the world as Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.

26. It is a time for reflection and for identifying our priorities and objectives for the future.

27. The agenda of the first Quad Summit, with its focus on health security and vaccines, supply chains, cyber security, critical and emerging technologies, climate change and space is an indication of what the future holds for us.

28. India is determined to be a force for good in the international arena. It is determined to generate solutions to global problems.

29. In the region, India is a net provider of security; it is a first responder; and it is a reliable development partner.

30. It is also an India that aspires to be Atmanirbhar. To be Atmanirbhar is to strive for strategic autonomy. Autonomy that comes from economic resilience.

31. The Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan intends to make India a trustworthy global supply chain hub. A number of policy measures have been announced in the recent past that will move India in this direction. The economic shock of the pandemic was countered by a massive fiscal and monetary support package. Liquidity was injected into the system and industry received financial support.

32. The government remains focused on improving the ease of doing business.

33. Ambitious structural reforms have been launched to deregulate and to enhance economic openness, good governance and global competitiveness.

34. Innovative policy measures such as the Production Linked Incentives scheme are creating globally competitive Indian businesses.

35. Private sector participation has been given a big push in eight areas: coal, minerals, defence production, civil aviation, power distribution, social infrastructure, space and atomic energy.

36. The manufacturing sector has been further opened up to finance and technology flows.

37. There is special emphasis on innovation and R&D that will give Indian industry the extra edge they need.

38. A National Education Policy has created the framework for educating a 21st century workforce.

39. India has made massive public investments in improving its infrastructure. Prime Minister’s Gati Shakti – the National Master Plan for Multi-modal Connectivity – is set to create a seamlessly connected India.

40. These are all initiatives that will improve India’s global economic standing, its attractiveness as business destination and its reliability as a partner.

41. Even during the bleakest days of the pandemic, India never forgot that it was a part of a larger international community. Indian medical products, including drugs such as Paracetamol and HCQ, were exported to about 150 countries during the first wave.

42. India launched Operation Sanjeevani, and later, Mission Sagar, to bring Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief to partners in our extended neighbourhood.

43. India dedicated its vaccines to the greater good of humanity through Vaccine Maitri.

44. India is a country with global interests and takes its commitments to be a responsible international player with the utmost seriousness.

45. Our approach to improving global public good is evident in our approach to our neighbourhood. We have made an enormous effort to improve connectivity in this region.

46. Kolkata, the home of this Chamber, has been a great center of trade and industry. Its location, its port and its hinterland have made it a global city. Today, these very characteristics place it on newer cross roads.

47. I have already referred to the central position of the Indo-Pacific Region.

48. ASEAN countries are central to our Indo-Pacific strategy.

49. Neighbourhood First and Act East are two fundamental pillars of our foreign policy. These two pillars literally intersect in this part of our country.

50. India is linked to South East Asia by land through this region.

51. It is linked by the Bay of Bengal to the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific.

52. Members of this Chamber may be aware of the lines of communication that are being created through North East India to South and South East Asia. The Kaladan multi-modal transport project, which pivots on Sittwe port in Myanmar, and the Trilateral Highway project, are two notable examples.

53. Five of the six rail links that connected Bangladesh and India before 1965 and were interrupted by the vagaries of history have been reactivated. More are being built.

54. Indian is now connected to Nepal through the Jayanagar- Kurtha railway line. A Raxaul Kathmandu railway is on the anvil.

55. Members of this Chamber can today travel to Dhaka directly by bus, train and air. They can travel to Agartala via Bangladesh by bus. They can ship goods to Agartala multi-modally through Ashuganj and Chittagong.

56. Future plans to enhance connectivity include extending the Trilateral Highway to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Railways that link India and Myanmar and further to Thailand, Laos, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh are all in the realm of possibility.

57. A network of land ports and integrated check posts are being built along our land borders to upgrade the cargo transshipment and passenger transit experience.

58. These will create new transport corridors that will facilitate rapid transport of goods and people between different nations in the region and different parts of India. A common energy market is slowly and surely being created. The Indian grid is connected to Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. These allow India to supply 1160 MW of power to Bangladesh, about 700 MW to Nepal, and import 1.8 GW from Bhutan. Trans-national movement of electricity in the neighbourhood is thus a reality. Procedures for export and import of electricity with our neighbouring countries have also been notified.

59. Hydrocarbon pipelines are being created to link India with Nepal and Bangladesh.

60. Organisations such as yours, and the businesses that you represent, are stakeholders in the process of increasing our engagement with our partners in this region.

61. We have tried to increase our engagement with such stakeholders and partners through a number of public diplomacy initiatives. I am glad to inform you that the Ministry of External Affairs is supporting a number of new Track 1.5 and Track 2 dialogues and Conferences with a focus on this dimension. Recent initiatives included a BIMSTEC focussed dialogue located in Kolkata; a Kolkata- Dhaka Dialogue that brings together think tanks and academic institutions in India and Bangladesh; a "Nadi” conference in Shillong that focuses on cooperation within this region; and a Kanchanjunga Dialogue based in North Bengal and Sikkim that has a BBIN - Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal - focus.

62. We have also commissioned a study by the North Eastern Development Finance Corporation that will "map” connectivity projects in North Eastern India and Indian supported connectivity projects in countries neighbouring this region. The idea is identify synergies and possible growth corridors.

63. In conclusion, let me refer to the recent interaction that the Prime Minister had with Heads of Indian Missions abroad and with stakeholders in trade and commerce. The Prime Minister gave concrete directions on how this Ministry’s network of Missions and Posts abroad can work to further the goal of promoting the three Ts – Trade, Tourism and Technology. An ambitious target of USD 400 billion of exports has been set up for the year 2021-22.

64. The business of Indian diplomacy is, thus, business.

65. We at the Ministry of External Affairs stand ready to help Indian businesses in any way we can.

Thank you.

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