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Transcript of Media Briefing on visit of President to Mauritius and Madagascar (March 09, 2018)

March 10, 2018

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Namaskar, good afternoon. I am happy to welcome you once again on the special briefing on the visit of Rashtrapati Ji to Mauritius and Madagascar from March 11 – 14, 2018 and to brief you all on the visit, I have Sanjay Panda, Jt. Secretary (IOR), Dr. Neena Malhotra, Jt. Secretary (E&SA) as well as Dr. Ashok Malik, Press Secretary to the President.

I will start with Sanjay, he will brief on the Mauritius leg of the visit, followed by Neena who will brief on the Madagascar leg.

Jt. Secretary (IOR), Shri Sanjay Panda: Good afternoon friends. As you know President will be visiting Mauritius and then from Mauritius to Madagascar and from 11 till 15. From March 11 to 14 he will be in Mauritius. Now the specific purpose of the visit that he has been invited as the Chief Guest to the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Mauritian independence.

As you know we have very special ties with Mauritius. It is a country where two thirds people are of Indian origin, so this diaspora linkage with Mauritius is particularly important and it is befitting that Hon’ble Rashtrapati Ji is invited as the Chief Guest on this momentous occasion.

In recent years actually our engagement with Mauritius has witnessed a qualitative transformation especially after Prime Minister’s visit in March 2015 when he actually spelt out our Indian Ocean Doctrine which is called SAGAR (Security and Growth for All). That visit and the subsequent visit by the Prime Minister of Mauritius of Praveen Juganauth, when he came in May last year which was his maiden visit after taking over as the Prime Minister of Mauritius has really set the ball rolling for keeping up the momentum of our bilateral engagements.

As I mentioned it is a very unique and special relationship but particularly why I emphasized during the last two years, how it has assumed importance, I will just briefly give you the background and then come to Rashtrapati Ji’s engagements in Mauritius. During the last two years we had the double taxation avoidance convention which was amended to the DTAC convention and then in 2016 there was a special economic package that was announced for Mauritius where about $353 million to take care of five national priority projects in Mauritius including the Metro Express, ENT Hospital, Supreme Court Building, e-tablets for the primary schools and social housing.

During Prime Minister Praveen Juganauth visit to India there was a highly concessional LoC of $500 million to take care of 18 priority projects was announced. So basically our development assistance to Mauritius has really grown and this has also been entrenched across a very wide spectrum. This is the backdrop in which Rashtrapati Ji is visiting Mauritius and his engagement, as I mentioned the context is the 50th anniversary of their independence. But this is a highly substantive visit in the sense that we look forward to signing four MoUs during the visit.

There is an MoU on Nalanda University in fact which was in the works and which is now coming to fruition and then there is the MoU on establishment of the Ayurveda Chair in the University of Mauritius and then there is another MoU between two Public Service Commissions, our UPSC and their Public Service Commission. In fact we are setting up a Civil Services College in Mauritius so this is going to supplement that and of course there is a cultural exchange program.Now the highlight of the visit apart from the National Day celebration is that there is a World Hindi Secretariat which is coming up in Mauritius and it will be inaugurated by the Rashtrapati Ji. Then he will also launch several of our projects about which I mentioned. He will be launching the e-tablet project, he will be laying the foundation stone of an ENT Hospital project and also of the Social Housing project. All these projects, as I mentioned, are funded under the $353 million special economic package.

There is an announcement which also we are considering in response to request from the Mauritian side which will be discussed during the visit and apart from this, President has a very hectic engagement while in Mauritius. He will be of course meeting and having talks with Prime Minister Praveen Juganauth and also with the President of Mauritius and apart from that he will also meeting the leader of the opposition and several other political personalities including the Speaker, the Chief Justice and other important delegates.

I will stop here and if you have any specific questions I will take them after the briefing on Madagascar. Jt. Secretary (E&SA), Dr. Neena Malhotra: Thank you Sanjay. Thank you all of you for kindly joining us today this afternoon. Some of you may recall that Hon’ble Rashtrapati Ji had chosen Africa as his first overseas destination after assuming office. He had visited Ethiopia and Djibouti and this year again he has chosen Africa for his first visit abroad.

Madagascar would be the 20th country in the African continent to be visited by the Indian troika of President, Vice President and Prime Minister in the last three years. As you are aware we have had 18 outgoing visits to Africa so far. Five by the President, seven by the Vice President and six by the Prime Minister. This underscores the importance and priority attached to Africa by India.

President of India would visit Madagascar from March 14-15, 2018 as mentioned by Sanjay. This would be the first ever VVIP visit to Madagascar since the establishment of our diplomatic relations with that country. India established a consulate general in Madagascar in 1954 which was upgraded to an Embassy in 1960 upon Madagascar’s independence. President of Madagascar has visited India, his last visit was in 2015 during IAFS –III. From our side the last visit was by Minister of State for Finance, Shri Santosh Gangwar in 2016 and that visit too at the level of a Minister from India had taken place after 25 years. As regards the program, apart from the ceremonial aspects, President will have talks with his counterpart and delegation level talks. He will also have an interaction with the business communities and a talk at the University of Antananarivo. There is a CGARD center (Center for Geo Applications in the Area of Rural Development) that has been set up by Indian assistance that will be inaugurated by the President and he will also attend an Indian community reception.

I will say a little bit about Madagascar, it is the fourth largest island in the world. It’s a country roughly about the size of France and is about 300 times bigger than Mauritius. The country is strategically located in our extended neighborhood in the Indian Ocean along Mozambique Channel. Madagascar is blessed with incredible bio-diversity. I’m told it holds about 4 percent of the world’s bio-diversity and has enormous natural and mineral resources including Nickel, Cobalt, Graphite, Iron ore, precious and semi-precious stones and is the largest producer of Sapphire in the world. There are also recent discoveries of oil in Madagascar which have generated immense interest.

The country is also a member of major regional bodies that is common market for East and Southern Africa. SADC which is Southern African Development Community, Organization of Francophone Countries, AU as well as WTO. We have warm and cordial relations with Madagascar. Both the countries have emerged from Colonial past, faced similar challenges and have shared views on important global issues.

India appreciates people of Madagascar for reposing faith in democracy and the successful conduct of general elections in December 2013. We are ready to expand the reach and scope of our development assistance to Madagascar and have revived several institutional mechanisms to deepen our engagement. India is also keen to expand naval and maritime cooperation with Madagascar. Indian navy ships have been making friendly port calls to this country. In the last three years five Indian navy ships and an Indian coast-guard ship have made goodwill visit to Madagascar.

In the area of development cooperation we have been extending Lines of Credit in the area of agriculture and we are positively considering fresh LoC requests from Madagascar. There are likely to be some announcements during the visit. Madagascar is a member of International Solar Alliance family and has both signed and ratified the ISA instrument. Being a partner country it will also benefit from the projects in the area of solar energy. We have been providing aid assistance in the form of disaster relief and Malagasy candidates have been attending capacity building and training programs in India.

As far as trade and economic relations are concerned, Madagascar is a beneficiary of duty-free tariff preference scheme of India. Our total bilateral trade as of now is not huge, it is roughly $330 million but there is tremendous potential for further growth. Indian companies have been investing in mining, telecom and health sector and are keenly watching the emerging opportunities in Madagascar. We are going to have a business event involving leading industrialists of both the countries which will be addressed by both the Presidents.

Under our cultural outreach program we have had the first ever festival of India in Madagascar in 2015 and this year for the first time a large group from Madagascar also participated in the International Surajkund Crafts Mela. As regards diaspora there are about 15 -20 thousand persons of Indian origin in Madagascar who are contributing greatly to the Malagasy economy and their contribution is appreciated by Madagascar at all levels.

Madagascar has extended support to India in various multilateral forums and is an important member of Indian Ocean Rim Association and the India Ocean Naval Symposium. The visit provides an opportunity and consolidate our relations. In terms of deliverables we are expecting to sign a couple of agreements and some announcements will also be made during the visit. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:
May I now request Mr. Ashok Malik to share some other aspects of the visit. Press Secretary to President, Mr. Ashok Malik: Thank you Raveesh, thank you everyone. Good afternoon. As my colleague Neena just said, this is the second state visit of President Kovind. If you recall he visited Djibouti and Ethiopia in October last year.

It is not without coincidence that both the visits have been to Africa and the Indian Ocean region. This reflects India’s foreign policy priorities and also reflects President Kovind’s personal commitment to these regions and these countries.

Mauritius is one of India’s closest friends. It is a country that my colleagues have pointed out has strong political and cultural links with India. President Kovind is very happy that his visits will coincide with the 50th anniversary of Mauritius’s independence and he will be the Chief Guest at the ceremonies. While several Indian presidents, prime ministers and high level leaders have visited Mauritius, it is the first time an Indian President, Vice President or Prime Minister would be visiting Madagascar.

Interestingly in October President Kovind’s visit to Djibouti was also the first visit by an Indian high level dignitary of President or Vice President or Prime Minister to that country.

In that sense President Kovind is glad that his visit to Madagascar will help fill a cartographic gap in a sense in Indian diplomacy. In both countries the President looks forward to meeting a wide range of people across sections of society, political leaders across the spectrum, business officials, government officials, students and the academic community. He will be addressing university communities in both countries. He will also be addressing Indian diaspora gatherings in both countries.

Both Madagascar and Mauritius are in a sense frontline states in the battle against climate change. Mr. Kovind is glad that his visits to these countries coincide or come just after the International Solar Alliance Summit which was to take place in Delhi this weekend and he will be leaving on Sunday morning right after having hosted the opening banquet of the ISA and that does give him a lot of satisfaction. Thank You.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Now we move to the question and answer round.

Question: There is this Agalega Island development that was an agreement was signed during the Prime Minister’s visit, if I am not mistaken, and so what is the status of that project and would that figure in the conversation that the President will have with his counterpart and other people during the visit?

Jt. Secretary (IOR), Shri Sanjay Panda: Agalega agreement, as you very rightly said, was signed when the Prime Minister visited in March 2015. It’s a infrastructure development project of Agalega island and logistical facilities. We have now moved forward with implementation phase now so tendering has commenced and we would soon be getting into the other related works. So it is moving on schedule so there are no issues there.

Question: My question is on Madagascar, as Dr. Neena said that India and Madagascar have developed deep naval and maritime cooperation in recent times. I would like to know if there is any existing defence cooperation with both the countries or likely to be signed during this visit?

Jt. Secretary (E&SA), Dr. Neena Malhotra: You are right, India seeks a more cooperative and integrated future for the region and beyond through overall development of the ocean based economy and also cooperation. We already have defence cooperation agreement with almost all Indian Ocean littoral countries. We have defence cooperation agreement with South Africa, with Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique and Mauritius and Seychelles of course. We are expecting to sign similar agreements with other countries, so Madagascar could be one of them. Thank you.

Question: Are the business bodies like CII, ASSOCHAM, FICCI visiting with the President?

Press Secretary to President, Mr. Ashok Malik: There is a business event in Madagascar which, I am not sure, the individual chambers are but I think Jt. Secretary involved can give you the details.

Jt. Secretary (E&SA), Dr. Neena Malhotra: We have a business event in Madagascar and we have members from various chambers. We even have members form PHD Chambers of Commerce, we have members from FICCI, we have members from CII and we are expecting some other chambers like All India Association of Industries also to send some member. So yes it is a combined event and many business community members are expected to be there. Thank you.

Jt. Secretary (IOR), Shri Sanjay Panda: The context of visit to the Mauritius is different so this time around there is no specific business event that is planned in Mauritius.

Question: It is regarding Madagascar, as you just mentioned there will be a business event, so is the sugarcane cultivation in Madagascar by Indian company or a kind of things will be discussed there, sugarcane cultivation by the Indian companies?

Jt. Secretary (E&SA), Dr. Neena Malhotra: Madagascar has sizeable arable land and tremendous opportunities in the area of agriculture. We buy a lot of agriculture commodities from Madagascar, we buy spices, we buy cashew nuts from Madagascar and we also buy some edible vegetables. Country is of course a major coffee producer but we ourselves are a major coffee producer so coffee is not an item which we buy from Madagascar, though some amounts do come but not under DFTP.

As regards sugarcane, we do not have any specific agenda item but yes agriculture is one of the areas of cooperation that we are going to discuss. The other major item in the area of business, I would say, is precious and semi-precious stones. Some of you may know that a 56 member delegation from Madagascar, this is the first time that such a huge delegation from Madagascar came to India. They came for this Rough Gems show in Jaipur which was organized by Gems and Jewelry Promotion Council, so that is a sector which is looking very very promising and we are looking at Madagascar as an alternate source of supply of these items which is a very important sector for India. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:
I have time for maybe one last question.

Question: Could you please tell me about the President’s delegation, who are the people on it?

Press Secretary to President, Mr. Ashok Malik:
From MEA and the President’s Secretariat I guess you mean the MPs who will be part of the delegation. There will be one Minister and four MPs. The Minister is Mr. Ashwani Kumar Choubey, Minister of State, Health and Family Welfare. The four MPs accompanying the President are Mr. Manoj Tiwari, MP Lok Sabha from Delhi, Mr. Hukum Dev Narayan Yadav, MP Lok Sabha from Bihar, Mr. R Radhakrishnan, MP Lok Sabha from Puducherry and Mrs. Vijila Satyanath, MP Rajya Sabha from Tamil Nadu.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you with this we conclude this special press briefing on the visit of President to Madagascar and Mauritius. Thank you to the two Jt. Secretaries and also to the Press Secretary for joining.

Thank you all.

(Concludes.)

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