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Transcript of Curtain Raiser Briefing on VP’s visit to Guatemala, Panama and Peru

May 04, 2018

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Good afternoon once again. We will brief you on the first official visit of Vice President Shri M Venkaiah Naidu who will be travelling to Guatemala, Panama and Peru from 6 – 12 May, 2018. This is a curtain raise briefing. I have with me Secretary (East), I also have with me Jt. Secretary (LAC). Secretary (East) will give you overview about the visit and once the briefing is over we will also take some questions from all of you who have assembled here.

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran:
Thank you Raveesh and good afternoon dear friends and thank you for kindly joining us this afternoon for this special briefing on Hon’ble Vice President’s visit to these three important countries in the Latin American region. As you just heard Raveesh mention that Hon’ble Vice President would be visiting Guatemala, Panama and Peru. This would be his first official overseas visit and the fact that he has chosen to go to three countries in Central and South America shows the importance that India attaches to the relations with that region.

You would recall that in 2014 our Prime Minister, one of his first visit has been in fact to Brazil for the BRICS Summit, at which point he also had the opportunity to meet with several leaders of the Latin American region. Thereafter we have had sustained continuous high level interactions with many other countries. For example during the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit in Goa, there was a full bilateral visit with Brazil and Prime Minister had also gone to Mexico.

We have also had our Minister of State for External Affairs make several visits to countries in that region. We have had our former Vice President of India attend the NAM Summit, lead the Indian delegation to the NAM Summit. We had the Home Minister of India attend the funeral of President Fidel Castro and now with Vice President of India for his first overseas visit on these three countries shows the importance that we give to the region.

Hon’ble Vice President will be accompanied by a high level delegation comprising of Minister for state for Tribal Affairs, Shri Jaswant Singh Bhabor and four Members of Parliament representing four different political parties and senior officers of the Government of India.

India attaches importance to its relations to the Latin American region as I mentioned earlier. In fact we share very warm and friendly and cordial relations with all of these countries. Over the last few years our relations with the region both in terms of our political engagement as well as our trade and commerce engagement has in fact intensified significantly and I did give you some details of high level contacts.

There is an immense amount of goodwill for India and all of these 33 countries of the Latin American region and we coordinate very closely in international forums. We are part of the South South Cooperation so in G77, at the United Nations, at the Non-Align Movement as part of discussion in WTO and other such multi-lateral forums we work very closely together.

This region is important for us also for our energy security and food security. Specifically with three countries when I come to them I will tell you exactly what are our economic areas of interest with them. While he will of course meet with the political leadership of each of these three countries, Hon’ble Vice President has made it a point to include in his program, meeting with the diaspora even though diaspora in a country like Guatemala is very small in spite of it he has taken time out to ensure that he meets them because of our very close cultural and emotional attachment that the Indian diaspora has with India and a very special dimension of this relationship.

Our relations with region both in terms of political engagement as well as trade and commerce has intensified as I mentioned earlier and certainly this visit is going to further enhance that engagement. Our trade and investment is one of the main drivers of this relationship however there is scope and potential of doing better and we hope that this visit will again help enhance that.

We look forward to enhancement of economic and commercial profile particularly there is a pharmaceutical, medical equipment, mining equipment, engineering, automobiles equipment, infrastructure and information technology. Indian companies are already present in these sectors in these three countries. In addition to that we seek cooperation in other strategic areas including cooperation in space, telematics tracking, satellite fabrication, science & technology and bio-technology.

Moving on to country specific, Hon’ble Vice President will be in Guatemala on 6th May which is the biggest country in Central America in terms of population and economy, it has a population of 16.6 million. India-Guatemala relations have traditionally been cordial and friendly over the years. The bilateral trade has grown consistently and in just a few years it has grown from $152 million to $263 million.

The visit of Hon’ble Vice President is highest ever from either side so that is a special marker. It will focus on exploring various areas of mutual cooperation during the visit Hon’ble Vice President will have bilateral meetings with the President, the Vice President, the Speaker of the Parliament and the Mayor of the city of Antigua Guatemala, which is an ancient city a little away from Guatemala city.

Our discussions are expected to focus on mutual areas of cooperation. Some of the sectors I have already shared with you in addition to that also in areas such as protection of wild life. A very good example of protection of Jaguar population as we have with the tiger population in India, on human resource training and development.

We have already provided ITEC training courses there. There is an interest in learning English from us, information technologies, so that will be an important area of focus and of exchanging know how on training institutes. We are certain that this visit will enhance our existing relations with Guatemala.

Moving on to Panama, Hon’ble Vice President will reach there the following day i.e. May 7, 2018. India’s linkages with Panama are the oldest in Central America region. You would recall more than 100 years back, end of 19th century Indian workforce had gone there to build their railway lines and then subsequently also contributed to the construction of the Panama Canal. So there has been old linkage of the old Indian diaspora there.

Today Panama is a major hub for logistics, for financial and banking sector, for shipping so those are the areas where we seek greater cooperation with them and there is potential.

India and Panama has always had cordial ties based on our commonality of shared commitment to democracy, to pluralism, to multi-culturalism and to rule of law. Our bilateral trade turnover is $424 million. Hon’ble Vice President’s engagement will include meetings with the President, the Vice President, the Foreign Minister and it will cover various bilateral cooperation areas including agriculture, culture, education, economic cooperation and also traditional medicines and Aayush related subjects. We will also hold discussion on cooperation in multilateral forums and of course regional issues.

Hon’ble Vice President will visit the famous Panama Canal and he will, as mentioned earlier, meet the Indian community and address students of the international studies at the university of Panama and Panamanian diplomats before his departure.

Moving on to Peru, that would be the last leg of Hon’ble Vice President’s visit. Peru today has emerged as a very important partner for India. Our bilateral trade turnover is about $3 billion. Vice President is scheduled to meet the President. Just one month back they had a change of government and in spite of the fact that there is a new government, the Government of Peru very warmly have invited our Vice President so he will meet the President, the Vice President, the Prime Minister and the President of the Congress as well as the Foreign Minister of Peru.

This is an important landmark year in our bilateral relations because we are also celebrating the 55th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations so there will be a special function which Hon’ble Vice President will attend to mark this landmark year and he will also deliver an address on this occasion. He will visit the Congress, the Parliament of Peru and meet with the India-Peru Parliamentary Friendship Association.

Our trade agreement that we have and we are in the process of negotiating one covers trade in goods, services and investment. Two rounds have taken place and it is moving very positively. In addition to that both sides will review the entire spectrum of our bilateral relations including trade commerce and investments, information technology, which I earlier referred to, traditional medicine, space, defence, culture amongst other issues.

Peru has been supportive of India’s candidature as a permanent member of the reformed UN Security Council. They have also joined the International Solar Alliance as a founding member. We see many areas of convergence with Peru and Hon’ble Vice President looks forward to his visit to all the three countries which we hope will enhance further our very cordial and warm relations with each of the three countries. I will stop here and will be happy to take questions.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you Ma’am. We will be issuing a press release on the visit later this evening which will have some of the details which Secretary just mentioned. I now open the floor for questions.

Question: As you said Vice President chose to visit in this region, so what is the new initiative that we want to take in this region and why Vice President chose this?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: I will start with the dates, the dates for Guatemala May 6 and May 7, for Panama it is 8 – 9 May and for Peru it is May 10 and 11.

As far as areas of new cooperation are concerned, as I mentioned to you there is Indian presence and Indian interest in each of the three countries in pharmaceuticals, in information technology and automobiles as well capacity building, education, training etc. These are ongoing areas which we will explore further.

I think in my earlier briefing I did mention additional areas such as cooperation in space sector. Specifically, I think I also mentioned to you as far as Guatemala is concerned that we will be looking at cooperation and collaboration in training institutes and in protection and preservation of wild life, those are two new areas of interest as far as Guatemala is concerned.

As far as Panama is concerned, you know there are councilor related issues which are important to us and I think we are in discussion with them on that particular aspect. Then as I mentioned again in my briefing that because Panama is an important hub for logistics and shipping and for finance and banking, I think those would be the areas where we would be holding discussions.

Moving on to Peru, Peru is an important country for mining, it is perhaps one of the largest countries for silver copper gold etc. so we will certainly be looking at areas of cooperation in the mining sector, in Ayurveda, in medicinal plants. All three countries are rich bio-diverse countries and therefore hold a lot of potential in further collaboration in the field of biotechnology and medicine plants. New and renewable energy is another which we are looking at for collaboration with Peru. They are already founding members of the Solar Alliance but that is one other area of importance for us where we can collaborate.

Culture because Peru as well as Guatemala and Panama all have had very rich civilizational cultures so cultural exchange is an area where we are looking at. Indian culture including yoga and traditional medicines are popular there and I am sure they will be further interested in enhancement of cultural exchange as far as our traditional culture are concerned. Apart from culture collaboration in space sector and satellite telemetry will be the new areas of collaboration.

Question: What is the size of the Indian diaspora in Guatemala and are they recent migrants or are they have been there for some time?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: I think it is a very small number, it should not be more than 300 people in Guatemala. The largest Indian diaspora is in Panama i.e. about 15000 and some of them go back a 100 years as I mentioned, they went as workforce to build the railway system as well as the Panama Canal but more recently because it is an important financial hub. I am sure Indian professionals are there. Information technology sector is another area which has attracted Indian talent to these countries.

Coming back to other areas of cooperation, please remember that all three are important, vibrant democracies as is India. Hon’ble Vice President is also Chairman of Rajya Sabha. He is taking with him a high level multi-party delegation to showcase India’s plural democracy and I think throughout his exchange in all the three countries, he would be meeting with the Heads of the Parliament and Members of parliament. So that is again a very important component of collaboration and commonality in his tour of these three countries, democracies coming together.

Question: Who are those Members of Parliament who will be accompanying the Vice President?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: The composition of the delegation of Hon’ble Vice President includes the Minister of State for Tribal Affairs, Shri Jaswant Singh Bhabor. In addition to that there are four Members of Parliament. Shri Thiruchi Shiva from DMK from Rajya Sabha, Shri Anil Desai, Rajya Sabha, Shiv Sena, Shri Chhaya Verma from the Indian National Congress, again form Rajya Sabha and Shri Kamlesh Paswan, Lok Sabha, BJP.

Question: We have seen President Kovind make a series of visits to African countries and you also mentioned that Vice President’s visit to Latin and South America it is a part of an initiative to visit countries in this region. So is this part of the start of the diplomatic offense in the Central and South American Continent, you know the way President Kovind has only visited African countries so far, so can we expect more such visits from the Vice President to that part of the world?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: I would not like to use the words diplomatic offense, I just like to use very positive expressions for our relationship with each of these 33 countries with whom we have very cordial relations. As I mentioned earlier we have an extreme amount of goodwill that India enjoys in each of these in spite of the distance there has been a very vibrant and growing trade and economic investment relationship with them.

As I mentioned to you the Latin American region is important for us, for our energy security and for our food security because most of them, not just these three specific countries, several other countries in the region are actually rich in natural resources, rich in commodities, we import oil from them and also for our food security.

It is not as though it is a new found relationship, to cue back to our own Prime Minister’s visit in 2014 which in fact one of his first visits overseas when he had gone to attend the BRICS Summit where he not only attended the Summit but he also, at that opportunity met with a whole lot of other leaders from South American Countries. That year he also had several other meetings with leaders of Latin American region on the margins of the UNGA.

He had hosted President Temer from Brazil on a full state visit, he went to Mexico. As I mentioned our own Minister of State for External Affairs has been to several countries. There have been other ministerial visits not just of our Minister of State of External Affairs but other Cabinet Ministers who have gone to that region. Most recently the Commerce and Industry Minister had gone to Panama and to Havana.

So this is part of our high level engagement in that region and of course the fact the we have not had such a high level visit at the level of our Vice President except when our former Vice President led the delegation to the Non-Align Movement, but yes enhancing this engagement is an important component of our engagement with these countries.

Question: Recently Peru has shown interest in buying Brahmos, could you confirm if they will be a part of discussion?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: We have an ongoing defence agreement but specifically on this particular issue, there is nothing on the cards.

Question Contd.: So this will not be the part of discussion.

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: Not on this visit.

Question: You mentioned something about English learning, I think you suggested they are keen on collaborating with India on English Learning, how are we going about it?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: We have in fact under the ITEC scheme, and you know the ITEC scheme is well known to all of you, we have provided courses for teaching English. We are in discussions in helping maybe setup an English learning center. We will be very happy to do that, we have done in several other countries and this would be specific to training of English teachers in Guatemala.

Question: ………… Inaudible …………

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: At this stage in Guatemala but we do provide courses in English language training. When there is a lot of interest and not only is there interest but those who have attended our ITEC programs and other scholarship programs have expressed deep appreciation and satisfaction with the training courses provided in teaching English. As you know they are Spanish speaking countries.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you Ma’am. With this we conclude the briefing. Many thanks to Secretary (East) who could find time to come and brief, she was busy in another meeting. Thanks also to Jt. Secretary (LAC) Partha and thank you all for joining.

(Concludes)

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