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Transcript (uncorrected) of Media Briefing on State visit of President to Djibouti and Ethiopia (September 29, 2017)

September 29, 2017

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Good Afternoon and very good to see you all after a long time. There are two components to the briefing today. The first component, as you are already aware, will be about the first outgoing visit of Hon’ble President to Ethiopia and Djibouti then this will be followed by regular press briefing which I have not done for quite some time now. For the first part I have Dr. Neena Malhotra, Jt. Secretary, East and Southern Africa and Mr. Ashok Malik who is the press secretary to the President.

Dr. Neena will brief you about the President’s visit to the Ethiopian leg and Mr. Malik will touch upon President’s visit to Djibouti. Without any further ado I pass on the floor to Dr. Neena.

Jt. Secretary, (East & Southern Africa), Dr. Neena Malhotra: Thank you Raveesh. Good afternoon every one and very warm welcome to JNB. As Ravish mentioned this is the first overseas visit of the Hon’ble President after assuming charge. This would be the first visit by an Indian President to Ethiopia after almost 45 years. The last visit by President V V Giri was held in 1972.

Hon’ble President would be visiting Ethiopia from 4 – 6 October, 2017. The visit is at the invitation of Ethiopian President Teshome. The Program includes talks with his counterparts President Teshome who would also host a banquet for him. There is a business event and an interaction with the Indian community. Hon’ble President will also deliver an address at the Addis Ababa.

Africa is chosen as the first destination of President’s overseas visit and that is actually an index of the importance that is attached to African Continent by the current government. As you are aware Prime Minister has declared that Africa is a priority for Indian foreign as well as economic policy and in the last three years we have had as many as 16 VVIP visits to Africa. Three by the former President, Six by Prime Minister and Seven by former Vice President.

There is not even a single country in African Continent which has not been visited by at least an Indian minister during the last three years. We have also had 11 incoming visits by the African Heads of States, Heads of Governments and this is in addition to the 41 Heads of States and Governments from African Continent who visited India for the India-Africa Forum Summit in 2015, a landmark event for which all the countries in Africa with whom we have diplomatic relations were invited and all of them participated.

This year we have also had the first ever African Development Board Meeting in India in Ahmedabad during which the vision document for the initiative Asia Africa Growth Corridor was unveiled. India also participated in G20 Conference on Africa and also hosted a number of Africa centered events in the last two years.

As far as Ethiopia is concerned our relations are traditionally close and friendly. Ethiopia hosted the Second India Africa Forum Summit in 2011 in Addis Ababa at which the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh led the Indian delegation. We have had a number of visits from the Ethiopian side also including their Emperor, their Prime Ministers, previous and the current one. We have established institutional mechanisms with Ethiopia and diplomatic relations were established way back in 1948 and have been subsequently strengthened to cover the entire gamut of relations.

As regards trade and investments, the bilateral trade between India and Ethiopia in the year 2016 was about nearly a billion dollars, the exact figure is 940 million dollars. India’s export comprise of primary and semi-finished iron and steel produces, drugs and pharmaceuticals, machinery and investments, metals, plastics, aluminium, textiles, chemicals, transport equipment etc. Our imports are mainly pulses, semi-precious stones, leather, cotton, oil-seeds and spices.

India is among the top three foreign investors in Ethiopia with approved investments of over 4.8 billion USD. Of this an estimated 2.5 billion USD is already on the grounds or in the pipeline. There are 622 Indian projects approved by the Ethiopian investment agency in Ethiopia. Most of our investments are in agriculture and textile sector. We have Indian textile mills making textile there and generating a lot of local employment. We also have a unit of pharmaceuticals. We have investments in agriculture, floriculture, engineering, plastic, manufacturing, water management, education and healthcare etc.

Other important sectors are cement, plastic and of course the leather. The Central Leather Research Institute and the Footwear Design and Development Institute, both from India have been cooperating with the Ethiopian Leather Development Institute. There are more than 540 Indian companies in Ethiopia. India Business Forum in Ethiopia is the first forum of its kind having a membership of more than 100 Indian companies who are having operations in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is also a beneficiary of duty free tariff preference scheme of India and is eligible to export 94 tariff lines duty free.

Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing non-oil producing economies in Africa offers immense opportunities for India and Indian businesses. Ethiopia is also the largest recipient of long term concessional credits from India. We have given nearly one billion dollars of concessional credit to India for three sugar projects, rural electrification and power transmission lines. As regards education it is another important area of collaboration. Nearly 2000 Indians are part of the faculty in Ethiopian Universities which is almost 20-25 percent of total university teachers in Ethiopia. A sizeable number of school teachers in Ethiopia are also either Indian or of Indian origin. Ethiopia also happens to be a country which utilizes one of the largest number of training slots in India under the various scholarship schemes. In fact currently the First Lady of Ethiopia and about nine members of the cabinet i.e. ministers are alumni of Indian educational institutes.

As regards diaspora, the number of Indian origin people in Ethiopia is around six thousand, majority being investors and their employees and professors in universities. In the area of IT the Indian Pan-African E-Network Project phase 1 ran successfully both in the tele-education and tele-medicine sector. We have set up an India-Africa Vocational Training Center in Ethiopia which is running successfully. We are also planning to set up an information technology center in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is also very well connected with India. We have daily direct flights to Addis Ababa both from Delhi as well as Mumbai by the Ethiopian Airlines.

As regards some interesting facts about Ethiopia, it is one of the fastest growing economies not only in Africa but also in the world and also a young country, nearly 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25. It presents an enormous potential consumer market. It is a big country, as big as France and Spain combined. It is also known as the cradle of mankind with some of the oldest evidence for modern human found in Ethiopia. Lucy which is a 3.5 million years old human fossil, it was unearthed in Ethiopia. Ethiopia also claims to have a piece of original holy cross on which Jesus was crucified. It remains the only nation in Africa which was never colonized except for a brief period of five years from 1936 to 1941 when it was occupied by Italians.

The country is home to nine UNESCO World Heritage sites more than any other country in Africa. Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia and Ethiopia remains a leading producer of coffee. The capital of Ethiopia Addis Ababa is also known as the Diplomatic Capital of Africa. It has AU headquarters as well as some of the UN offices. Ethiopia is one of the most populated countries in the world, in fact the second one in Africa after Nigeria and also has the largest per capita density of cattle in Africa. Agriculture is fundamental to Ethiopia representing almost 50 percent of GDP, over 80 percent of exports and 80 percent of employment. It was among the first countries to sign International Solar Alliance treaty. They are in the process of ratifying the same. Ethiopia is also one of the largest contributors to UN Peacekeeping Forces both in Africa as well as in the world and they are currently serving as a two year non-permanent member of UN Security Council. They are the founding members of UN, NAM, G77, OAU as well as the Pan-Africa Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

I’ll be very happy to take questions if you have any regarding the visit.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: May I now request Mr. Malik to brief the media about the Djibouti leg of the President’s visit.

Press Secretary to the President, Mr. Ashok Malik: Good afternoon friends. On the invitation of President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti President Ramnath Kovind is undertaking a state visit to Djibouti on the 3 – 4 October, 2017. Djibouti will be the first country President Kovind will visit after assuming office. This visit is also the first visit by an Indian Head of State or Head of Government, an Indian VVIP in a sense to Djibouti. The previous highest level visitor from India has been a Minister of State.

During the visit President Kovind will be received by President Guelleh. He will have official talks with the President of Djibouti. He is also expected to be received by the Prime Minister of Djibouti His Excellency Mr. Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed.

An agreement on institutionalizing foreign office consultations between two countries is expected to be signed during the visit. Agreements related to accelerated and greater economic cooperation are also expected. The Indian President, President Kovind is also going to address the Indian community which is a small community consisting of few hundred people in Djibouti.

Djibouti is an important Indian Ocean partner country for India. Our country has had trade relations with it for literally hundreds of years. Bilateral trade stood at 284.54 million dollars in 2016-17 of which India’s export to Djibouti were 281.74 million dollars and imports from Djibouti were comparative small 2.82 million dollars.

India has extended lines of credit amounting to 49.13 million dollars to government of Djibouti mainly for the construction of cement plant. Djibouti is a very strategically located country in the Indian Ocean just off the Gulf of Eden. In 2015 as part of operation Raahat India rescued and evacuated some 7000 people from Yemen during the Yemeni crisis. About 5000 of these were Indian nationals, about 2000 were nationals from close to 50 other countries. Djibouti was very supportive and generous in providing an air strip and logistical support to India while India was undertaking operation Raahat and in a sense this visit follows that event and happy episode.

The President is looking forward to his visit. He recognizes that Africa and Indian Ocean region are central to Indian foreign policy and which is why these regions and continents have been chosen for his first visit. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you very much Mr. Malik and Dr. Malhotra. The floor is now open to questions.

Question: The question is on Ethiopia. During the visit of Mozambique leader there was a discussion to import pulses from Mozambique. So are we also looking at increasing our pulse import from Ethiopia given the shortage of pulses that we face from time to time?

Jt. Secretary, (East & Southern Africa), Dr. Neena Malhotra: We import pulses from four countries in Africa i.e. from Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi and Ethiopia. Ethiopia its mostly chick pea whereas toor, moong and urad are imported from the other three countries. This year we have had a bumper crop so I think our imports from Africa and many other countries including Myanmar and Australia and Canada have also come down drastically. You may have also seen DGFT notification putting a cap on the amount of pulses that we can import from these countries. So far chick pea is not covered by the DGFT notification which is the principal item which we import from Ethiopia as far as lentils are concerned. We are not contemplating signing of any agreement in the area of pulses as yet. Mozambique the MoU stands and it is exempted from DGFT notification.

Question: China has set up a naval base on the coast of the Djibouti. How India views this development and is India and Djibouti also considering any joint defence agreement in some sectors?

Press Secretary to the President, Mr. Ashok Malik: India’s relations with Djibouti and indeed with other African countries stand on their footing, they go back many years. India has never been a stranger to these countries economically or politically. What other countries do with them is entirely the business of those countries, so I don’t think we need to comment on that. As far as defence or other agreements, there is nothing scheduled yet.

Question: What are the agreements with Ethiopia, if any, we are signing and what is the composition of President’s delegation to the visits?

Jt. Secretary, (East & Southern Africa), Dr. Neena Malhotra: We are working on couple of agreements which may be signed during the visit. There may be a couple of announcements also, they are work in progress and you would probably hear about them during the visit. As regards the delegation I think I will leave that to President’s office.

Press Secretary to the President, Mr. Ashok Malik: The delegation is still being finalized. It will consist of a minister who will accompany the President as well as a group of MPs as is the normal practice. We have been having some difficulty in contacting some of the MPs because of the festive season, they are in their hometowns. The list should be available by this evening or tomorrow.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Well, if there are no other questions, thank you Mr. Malik and thank you Dr. Malhotra for this briefing. Thank you all.

(Concludes)

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