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Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) on Vice President’s visit to Panama

May 11, 2018

Speaker 1:Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to this media briefing on Hon’ble Vice President’s visit to Panama. Today after substantive meetings he had with top leadership of Panama, we have our Secretary (East) Mrs. Preeti Saran and our Jt. Secretary (LAC) Shri ParthaSatpathy.

I would request Secretary (East) to start with the opening remarks and after that we will open the floor for questions.

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: Good afternoon friends. You all have come from the Panama Canal and I am sure you all are very impressed by the engineering technology that you have seen. Thank you so much for joining for this press briefing which is the second lap of Hon’ble Vice President’s visit to the three countries in Central and South America.

Panama is another very important country for India and the fact that it is a part of group of countries that our Vice President is visiting on his first official overseas visit shows the importance that India attaches to its relations with the region and to Panama in particular.

Panama, as you know, is extremely strategically located as a hub that connects North America to South America. It connects Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean thanks of course to the Panama Canal. It is a major hub for shipping, for logistics, for banking and for financing sector. So again economically and strategically a very important country.

It is also hub in terms of its membership connecting the Caribbean, Central, South American region, members of CICA, CELAC, Caricom etc. So it makes it a very important relationship for India as well. We of course have amongst all the countries in the region our oldest relationship in fact is with Panama because 100 years back when the Panama Canal, in fact even before when the railways were coming up in Panama, Indian work force had come all the way from India to participate in both the construction of railways in Panama as well as in the construction of the Panama Canal. So our relationship goes back 100 years plus.

This morning started with a Tete-a-tete with the Hon’ble President followed by delegation level talks and luncheon hosted in honor of our Vice President and his delegation and thereafter a visit to the Panama Canal.

Now in an unprecedented gesture, the Government of Panama upgraded the talks, it was directly led by the President himself and he has spentthe entire day with our Vice President starting from Tete-a-tete at 10:00 in the morning all the way till 3:00 pm. In fact he broke away from protocol, received him at the entrance itself which was not on schedule, broke away from protocol and accompanied him, took him on a tour of the Presidential palace including to some of the personal areas i.e. quarters of the President.

Then accompanied by the Vice President, who is also the foreign Minister, escorted our Hon’ble Vice President and his delegation to see the Panama Canal. These are really special gestures, unprecedented gestures, which have really been appreciated and Hon’ble Vice President had conveyed this. I think he and his delegation have been very warmly received and these special gestures made all the difference in creating the special warmth in the leadership.

The other unique feature of the discussion was that one of the senior most members of Panama President’s cabinet were in fact present in the talks and these included the Vice President and Foreign Minister, it also included the Minister of Public Security, the Minister of Commerce, Minister for Innovation, Minister for Health, Minister for Environment. Now that just shows their presence and what kind of discussion took place.

The discussions were also extremely focused, very in-depth and with a lot warmth and commonality. The fact that India and Panama are two plural, diverse democracies, that we are pacifist and peace loving people as are Panamanians was yet another thing that was noted by the leaders on both sides in the discussions.

As far as substantive discussions are concerned, from the Panamanian side the President of Panama pointed out that in their new foreign policy which is called the Falcon Policy, they have in fact identified India as an important partner with which they would like to do business.

He mentioned that traditionally we have very strong relations, economic and business relations with USA, with Europe, with Japan, with Korea but now they would like to diversify. Falcon policy was articulated during his visit to Dubai where he saw firsthand the contribution that Indian diaspora of two million has made to the development of Dubai and that had really impressed the President of Panama and he definitely once again reiterated an interest in inviting the participation of the Indian professionals in further growth and development of Panama.

To that direction the President of Panama informed our Vice President that they had introduced new laws that would encourage greater investments in their Colon free zone and also eased their visa policies to allow greater Indian business and tourism participation into Panama.

So those were very important elementsand in fact in that context the President of Panama was aware that our Ambassador is hosting a reception for strong Indian diaspora that also lives here in Panama, who has contributed. He said they are very peace loving, law abiding people. These are some new elements that were repeated by the President with regard to Indian presence and attracting Indian participation.

On the economic side, the President of Panama said that we would be interested in attracting more Indian investment in IT and ITES, in agriculture including cold storage warehouses, in textiles in automobiles sector, in pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals is something that he reiterated, it is something where they are really interested that if there could be greater Indian participation once again in their Colon free zone area. Biotechnology, innovation are other areas along with space cooperation.

There was also discussion on the potential for greater collaboration in academic and education field. The fact the both Panama and India have young population, President of Panama in fact drew attention to the fact that next year in January Panama would host the World Youth Day and the fact that India has such a huge young population was something that they would want greater Indian participation of the Indian youth in this collaboration.

In turn he also sought Hon’ble Vice President’s views on the fact that both are very strong democracies as well. Our Hon’ble Vice President elaborated on the current growth rate in India. The liberalization that has been undertaken in the recent years by the government of India particularly in areas such as digitization of economy, on financial inclusion, on smart cities, on Swachh Bharat initiatives and other positive growth stories that have taken place in India.

Moving on to collaboration beyond the bilateral, there was a lot of appreciation of the assistance and the role that India has played in South-South Cooperation and at the United Nations where, once again, both sides reiterated the importance of working together very closely in dealing with the menace and the scourge of terrorism.

Panama also agreed and indicated a desire for greater collaboration in intelligence sharing and maybe work together to work towards greater collaboration in human trafficking issues and may be work together in mutual legal assistance treaty on criminal matters. In the course of our discussion we did invite a team from Panama for holding further discussions on security related issues.

At the end of the discussions an MoU on visa exemptions for diplomatic official and consular passports was signed. There was a work plan on cooperation in agriculture that was signed and there was an agreement to establish a Parliamentary Friendship Group for entire Latin American region from Indian side which of course includes Panama.

Then two lines of credit were announced by Government of India, by Hon’ble Vice President. One is a $10 million line of credit in bio-technology and the other is a $15 million credit line in innovation sector.

We will of course await concrete proposals from the government of Panama but they conveyed deep appreciation for this particular offer. Space was yet another important area, I think I have already mentioned it before. There are ongoing discussions that are taking place on several other areas and in addition to that there was also appreciation for the collaboration, one of course of the International Day of Yoga and how the ancient art of Yoga had been so popular internationally as well as in Panama, on the International Solar Alliance.

Vice President gave details about first founding conference on the International Solar Alliance that was held earlier this year and invited Panama to also be a part of it. We of course thanked each other for the support we provided at the United Nations, most recently the support that Panama gave for India’s candidature for the International Court of Justice. We also talked about reciprocal support that we would provide for non-permanent seats at the Security Council of our respective candidatures. For India it’s 21-22 and for Panama it is 25-26.

So I will stop here what we would be putting out on our website, I thought I will give you a head start on that soon after this discussion, would be a press statement that Hon’ble Vice President had enunciated soon after the talks. And the second is a press release, so you will find both these on MEA’s website which will give you more details of the substantive discussions that took place.

But the fact that the discussions lasted for more than two hours, from 10:00 to 12:00, is an important element to note. And the fact that the President of Panama spent almost entire day with our Vice President with a lot of warmth, that special gesture was especially noteworthy. Thank you. I will stop here and would be happy to take any questions.

Question: What reason do you see for the special gesture of the President of Panama, why did he broke the protocol?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: I think the most important reason is India. The fact that just as we attach importance to our relations with Panama, I think this special gesture that he has shown clearly symbolized on the part of the President of Panama himself and government of Panama to reach out to India for greater collaboration. The fact that such a high level visit was taking place after such a long gap and they reciprocated with that gesture along with a lot of warmth.

It was really a tribute to the relationship between India and Panama and the potential and the desire to engage with India bilaterally, politically, strategically, economically and of course get more Indian investment and trade going into Panama. So really it was the desire to engage with India.

Question:Two MoUs were signed, one is on agriculture. So could you please throw some light on agriculture MoU?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran:
There is a work plan, what will happen is it will be elaborated upon of greater collaboration between the Department of Agriculture Research in India and the counterpart agency here in Panama. Panama as you know is an important hub for agriculture particularly fruits etc. There is a lot of research that takes place in our country as well as in Panama, I think that is one area of collaboration.

Second would be, as I mentioned, cold storage is something where Panama has an experience.

What constantly we talked about was how we could learn from each other, share each other’s best practices. You would have seen yourself the amazing infrastructure that is available here in Panama City. Panama is strong in ports infrastructure. It is a great hub for air connectivity. It is very well connected to both North America and South America and several cities in Europe as well. So it is a major civil aviation hub.

In turn India and Indian companies have had a major presence in building international airports, whether it is turkey, whether it is Malaysia whether it is elsewhere. So there is potential for Indian engineering companies, Indian infrastructure companies to also help build develop port infrastructure, airport infrastructure and other infrastructure here in Panama.

Question:How Panama will ensure to curb global terrorism and are you looking for any treaty between both the countries to share the intelligence?

Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran: What has been discussed today is that we will have our officials have greater discussion on intelligence sharing, that is one aspect.

As far as terrorism is concerned, you know that terrorism knows no boundaries. Of course India is a victim of terrorism as no other country has been but there is a recognition which is also recognized by Panama and its leadership that we need to work collectively to combat this menace and scourge, that there has to be an international voice against those who aid and abet terrorism, those who finance and train terrorists and where the United Nations and otherwise speak in one collective voice to condemn terrorists and supporters of terrorists.

Speaker 1: With this we come to the conclusion of this media briefing. Thank you all for joining.

(Concludes)

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