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Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (West) on upcoming visit of President to Iceland, Switzerland and Slovenia

September 07, 2019

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Friends, good afternoon and welcome to this special briefing on Rashtrapati Ji’s visit to Iceland, Switzerland and Slovenia from 9 - 17, September 2019.

I have with me on the podium Secretary (West), Shri Gitesh Sarma, Jt. Secretary (CE), Dr. Anju Kumar and Deputy Press Secretary in the President’s office, Shri Nimish Rustagi. We will start with the initial remarks by the Secretary (West) which will be followed by a brief remark by Shri Nimish Rustagi and then we will take few questions from the floor. Sir, over to you.

Secretary (West), Shri A Gitesh Sarma: A very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to brief you on the forthcoming visit by Rashtrapati Ji to three countries. He will be travelling to Iceland, Switzerland and Slovenia.

Hon’ble Rashtrapati Ji is accompanied by First Lady and a high level delegation consisting of Smt. Debasree Chaudhury, Minister of State for Women and Child Development, Dr. Ramapati Ram Tripathi, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, Shri Basant Kumar Panda, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha and there is also a high level business element in these visits to the three countries.

This is as you are aware that these days it is very important to bring the business element to the fore so in all the three countries we have incorporated this element according to standard practice.

Friends, India shares very cordial bilateral ties with each of these three European countries. While they are deeply in the framework of the European world they also have multifaceted relationship or they have desire to build very strong tie up with a country like India with multifaceted economy of its own.

The importance of these countries can be seen in their potential in the field of technology particularly niche areas. They are in blue economy, sustainable development, innovation, R&D, there is a lot of tourism potential also in these countries. They are very keen to attract tourist or they have deep interest in visiting India.

The state visits will provide opportunities to enhance our political, economic, academic, science and technology linkages and give much needed focus to our bilateral ties. Naturally there will also be memorandums of understanding and agreements which will be signed during the course of the visits.

Friends, Iceland is the first leg and Rashtrapati Ji will actually arrive on September 9 and during his visit he will be meeting the President of Iceland, His Excellency Mr. Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson and Prime Minister of Iceland, Ms. Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

Rashtrapati Ji has been given an honor which is to deliver a lecture at University of Iceland, Reykjavik on India-Iceland partnership towards making a greener planet. So that is something a really very important honor given to Rashtrapati Ji.

The visit will further boost our engagement and bilateral relations with the Iceland which is at the moment occupying the chair of the Arctic Council and is also involved in the Arctic Circle Cooperation.

India is an observer in the Arctic Council and we are looking to be very active in the work of the council. There is a lot of interest in such areas as geothermal energy, fisheries, tourism, cultural cooperation. So these are some of the areas with Iceland, they are extremely relevant and important and the desire to work with us closely and we share similar approaches in many ways.

Switzerland is the next stop and the visit to Switzerland is from 11 to 15 September. Rashtrapati Ji will arrive in Switzerland on 11 September and his state visit is at the invitation of Swiss President Mr. Ueli Maurer.

As you must be aware Switzerland has practice of a rotational presidency. So this year it is Mr. Ueli Maurer who is from January 1 onwards the President of Switzerland.

This will actually be a return visit of Rashtrapati Ji following the state visit of the then Swiss President Doris Leuthard in August – September 2017. So it is something which is ongoing high level engagement with Switzerland.

Rashtrapati Ji will have wide ranging discussions with his Swiss counterpart, the President and members of the Federal Council. You could say that is the Swiss Cabinet.

Rashtrapati Ji will unveil a bust of Mahatma Gandhi in a commune of Pigniu which had been visited by Mahatma Gandhi in 1931. Romain Rolland is a philosopher who took deep interest in India, in the philosophy of India. Philosophers like Vivekananda, Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi.

So this is a very-very high point where this kind of honor is being given to India and the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi during the celebrations of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

There is a business delegation also which is accompanying Rashtrapati Ji which will be engaging with their Swiss counterparts under the aegis of the India-Swiss Business Forum. You are aware that India and Switzerland have a very extensive economic and trade relationship. So this business forum aims to take our relationship to higher levels and certainly several high quality areas of business which will be covered in the dialogue, in the discussions in the forum.

Rashtrapati Ji will meet the Indian community at a reception at Bern and again it is very important to reach out to the younger communities everywhere our leaders go because they are the next generation and they have very keen interest in India, and to expose them to our thinking, our perspective.

Rashtrapati Ji has been invited to address the University of Bern on the theme ‘India-Switzerland: New Age Partnership – Connecting Himalayas with Alps.’ So this is the theme of his address at the University of Bern.

Then from 15 to 17 September is his visit to Slovenia. This is the first ever presidential visit from India to Slovenia. Here he will have high level and wide ranging discussions with Slovenian President, PM and President of the National Assembly. Again a business delegation will be there and there will be a Business Forum to go with that. Rashtrapati Ji will meet the Indian community.

Friends, while I covered these three countries but it is important to keep in mind that in Europe you will have different countries. Some are big and some are small and not every country is a member of the EU but within them they have different arrangements. Sometimes in trade context or customs format or another free trade area and sometimes the political dialogue also takes place within the EU.

So it is very important to engage with every country in Europe. It gives an idea of their thinking and more importantly it gives us a chance to present our point of view. So these visits to our traditional friend countries which have great deal of emotional feeling for India in many ways, we will have yet another opportunity to engage with the leaders of these countries.

So with Europe we deal collectively and we also deal individually and many of these countries in Europe have great expertise in niche technologies even if they are not large but in some areas they are very specialized knowledge. Like for instance Iceland, their technologies are such and their economy is such they use every part of fish including the skin, they convert that into leather, that is have just given you an example. Geothermal energy, I think 80 percent of their homes are heated by geothermal energy.

So as we focus on non-fossil fuel and renewable energy, so these countries, they are very willing to work with us in these areas and they are also aware that India is also a rising economy and there is much to give and take and each one of them, there has been one common thread running through these three countries is the scenic beauty which has been tapped by Bollywood already.

Switzerland is well known but Slovenia and Iceland also Bollywood has gone and is an increasingly visible way. So they realize that once Bollywood comes in then tourism follows. So I think they have an interest in working with us to increase the flow of tourism and the other way reverse also, they are deeply interested in Indian philosophy, in culture and although their population base is small many of them are interested in visiting India. So scope for cultural and tourist cooperation is immense. So that is the snapshot. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you sir. Now I request Mr. Rustagi to brief the media.

Deputy Press Secretary to the President, Mr. Nimish Rustagi:
Thank you JS (XP). I think Secretary has given quite an extensive briefing so I will just provide some facts. This is 11th time the President is going to visit overseas as the President of India and his second visit in the third year of his presidency.

Previously he undertook four visits in his first year of presidency, five in the second year and he has taken one visit before this one in the third year which was to Benin, Guinea and Gambia.

Thus far he has led State visits to 23 countries overall. After this visit it would become 26 countries. 10 of them out of 26 has been to African nations, so that has been bulk of the focus but Europe has not lagged behind and five of the countries before this have been to Europe which were Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Croatia.

In this visit this will be the first time when the President would be visiting a Nordic country i.e. Iceland, so that is something new. Out of the 26 countries after this visit, this would be the first time that an Indian president would be visiting 13 of these countries. So 50 percent of the countries out of 26 are those where this will be the first time an Indian president is visiting.

That just shows the increasing engagement of India and the level at which the visits are taking place to a more diverse set of countries. The President looks forward to having engagements with his counterparts and also engaging with the business communities and students in all these countries and I think that sums up what I have to say. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you Nimish. Now the floor is open for questions.

Question: Hamare do sawaal hain, ek to ye ki Rashtrapati ki visit mein kitne samjhaute par hastaakshar honge yaa kaun se samjhaute hone jaa rahe hain? Doosri baat hai ki jo country hai Slovenia isase Hindustan aur Slovenia ke beech mein trade kitna jyada hai aur kitne businessmen is trip mein inke saath jaa rahe hain?

(I have two questions. One, how many agreements and what agreements will be signed during the visit of the President? And second, what is the volume of trade with Slovenia and how many businessmen are accompanying in this visit?)

Secretary (West), Shri A Gitesh Sarma:
Jaise ki maine kahaa thaa ki in teeno desho ke saath aarthik kshetra mein aur inke saath kaam karne ka sahyog karne ka avsar hai aur haalaanki chhote desh hain Iceland aur Slovenia khaaskar lekin fir bhi aise khsetra hain jinmein avasar hai inke saath sahyog karne ke liye.

To jahaan tak Iceland ki baat hai, to is waqt to aarthik kshetra mein hum kisii samjhaute kii ummeed nahi kar rahe hain lekin hum sahamati chaahte hain, jaise climate change ka masla hai, jaise marine products ke area mein hai fisheries mein to hum sochate hain ki Rashtrapati Ji ke daure mein to is par kuch ho sakta hai. Yaa to samjhautaa hogaa ya sahmati ho jaayegi is tarah se ki hum log kaam kar sakte hain.

Jahaan tak Switzerland hai, kyonki main aapko yaad dilaanaa chaahta hoon ki Switzerland ke saath hamaare sambandh to puraane hain. 1948 mein hi hum logon ne ‘Treaty of Friendship’ par hastaakshar to jab hum azad hue the lagbhag tab se hi chal rahaa hai. Ek tarah se jo framework honaa chaahiye wo uplabdh hai to hamein jo karna hai wo hai ki hamein apne business samudaay ko protsaahit karna chaahiye. To is waqt jo hum soch rahe hain, agreement kii baat kii aapne, to climate change ke kshetra main kuch ho saktaa hai. Aur bhi hain jaise sanskritik kshetra mein bhi to ismein bhi kuch sahmati ho sakti hai.

Jahaan tak Slovenia hai, ye ek nayaa desh hai, 30 saal puraanaa itihaas hai jo 1991 mein azad huaa thaa. Aapko kaafi dilchaspi hogii kii kai kshetron mein unkii kaabiliyat hai hamaare saath kaam karne ke liye. Abhi unke saath utnaa trade nahi hai jitnaa honaa chaahiye fir bhi 360 million euros tak unke saath hamara trade volume hai.

Kuch areas hain, jaise defence mein, aircraft building mein bhi unke paas kuch hai, agriculture area mein bhi hai. Unke yahaan kaafi green technologies bhi hain. Actually Slovenia bahut hi green desh maanaa jaataa hai, unhone jis tarah se apne jungle ka sanrakshan kiyaa hai.

Sab countires ke saath har mudde par to nahi ho sakta lekin wo bhi interested hain ki hamaare investors jaaye wahaan par jaise maine already aapko bataayaa ki tourism ho, Bollywood bhi wahaan par filming kare. To do-tarfa hai ki wo bhi ummeed karte hain ki hamaare taraf se bhi traffic ho aur hamein bhi ummeed hai ki wahaan se bhi hum, kuch aisi technologies hain jaise precision engineering. To ye jo puraaana Yugoslavia ke andar jo unke andar kaabiliyat thii, to abhi bhi unhone usko barkaraar rakhaa hai aur Europe ke framework mein inke saath kaarm karne kii hamein opportunity milti hai.

To ye dono milaakar business mein hum poore Europe par focus kar sakte hain. Kai baar inmein cost of living yaa professionals kii requirement bhi hoti hai to in sab mein wo hamaari taraf dekhate hain, hamaare paas ready manpower hai, ready specialists. To is visit mein jo meetings honge teeno jagah mein to in areas mein hum ummeed karte hain ki specific proposals bhi develop honge.

(As I said that there are opportunities to work with these countries in economic sectors even though these are small countries particularly Iceland and Slovenia but still there are areas where we can cooperate with these countries.

As far as Iceland is concerned, at this moment we are not expecting any economy related agreement however we are expecting their consent, like in the aspect related to climate change, or in the area of fisheries. We believe that during the visit of Rashtrapati Ji something can materialize on this. Either there will be an agreement or a consent in a way which will enable us to cooperate.

As far as Switzerland is concerned, I would like to remind you that our relations with Switzerland are quite old. We had signed the ‘Treaty of Friendship’ with Switzerland in 1948, almost when we got independence. So in a way the required framework is available to us so what we need to do is to incentivize our business people. So at this moment what we are planning, about the agreement which you talked about, there could be something in the area of climate change. Other areas like some agreement could be formed in the area of culture also.

As far as Slovenia is concerned, it is a relatively new country which has a history of 30 years, it got independence in 1991. You would be interested to know that they have capabilities in certain areas where we can collaborate with them. At this moment the trade volume with them is not what it should be or could be and currently it is about 360 million euros.

There are certain areas like defense, they have capabilities in aircraft building and in agriculture also. They have certain very good green technologies also. Actually Slovenia is considered to a very green country as they have conserved their forests in a very beautiful way.

It is not possible to have agreements with all countries in every sector but they are also interested that our investors invest there, like I already told you they are keen that Bollywood does the filming there. So it is both ways, they also expect that there should be traffic from Indian side and we also expect to get something from there, like they have capacity in precision engineering. The capabilities which they had during the old Yugoslavia days, they have maintained that and we also get the opportunity to work with them in the European framework.

So with both of these we can have focus on whole Europe for business. Sometimes they have requirements of professionals so they look up to us as we have ready manpower and specialists. So during this visit we expect that certain specific proposals will develop in these areas in all the three countries.)

Question:
What is the stand of these three countries on the issue of cross-border terrorism and specifically talking about Iceland, the country, is very rich in geothermal energy, are we planning something with them on that specific sector?

Secretary (West), Shri A Gitesh Sarma: I think these all three countries are very sympathetic to India and this year also in the context of the Pulwama attack, their sympathies have been with India. While they do not themselves directly have faced such challenges as we continue to face they are nevertheless aware that there is a need to work closely with India.

We have very-very special relations with each of them and there is a very good understanding on most important issues including in terms of, let’s say Iceland, in terms of reform of international institutions. So I think the idea of this high level visits of really to continue the dialogue and continue the messaging that is required.

The reason the visits takes place is because there is already that common ground that they understand us on our priorities and they are very keen to hear it at the highest level in the interactions. So that is very clear that we have excellent understanding with these countries.

As far as Iceland is concerned you are right about geothermal energy, I myself mentioned it that as we move on our own renewable energy programs there will be more opportunities to work with Iceland. So we are looking at this business dialogue and other unfolding developments in our relations to tap this. But we are very much aware of Iceland’s strength. Surprising that it is a small country and we a reasonably distant country but for us the engagement with Iceland has been fairly regular.

Sometime back there was talk of an airlines flying to India but it couldn’t actually be sustained but as tourism and other kinds of traffic increases, so the connectivity with these relatively smaller countries will only increase. So we think that there is plenty of room for working on these kind of areas and in geothermal definitely Iceland is among the best.

Question: With Switzerland there is a sharing of bank data of Indians who have opened financial accounts in Switzerland to counter black money, is that going to be a part of the discussions? And also is India going to brief about Kashmir in any of these three countries?

Secretary (West), Shri A Gitesh Sarma: I think both are very good questions and very relevant. We have the India-Switzerland Tax Treaty which facilitates receipt of information on cases under investigation. From 2019 India, on the basis of our agreement, can receive on automatic basis information in respect of financial accounts held by Indians in Switzerland and the information may also include information about persons allegedly involved in corruption. So this is something which Switzerland has also been very keen to ensure that its financial systems are untainted, clean.

In today’s context in the world everything is under scrutiny, financial world is not immune to scrutiny and there is a strong desire internationally that financial practices should not support other kind of activities which are not consistent with legal kind of frameworks. Narcotics, corruption and other kind of illegal operations. So Switzerland and India have an understanding as you said on automatic exchange of information.

You did ask your second question on J&K, well, when leaders meet there is a structure in which regional, international, global, multilateral and issues of national concerns, so we always use these opportunities to brief each other just as we have issues, each of these countries have their own concerns. So this is a very good setting to hear it at the highest level what our perspective is and what is there. So we will certainly use this opportunity as we can to acquaint them of our concern but as I said, as far as J&K these countries have been very sympathetic to India with respect to the terror incidence that you found earlier in this year and they all understand that we need to work together.

Question: Just a slight clarification, when you said automatic exchange of information, this is between what agencies and is this current year’s agreement?

Secretary (West), Shri A Gitesh Sarma: The agreement will come into operation from this year i.e. 2019

Question Contd.: It will come to operation this year, has it come to operation or it will come to operation?

Secretary (West), Shri A Gitesh Sarma: It is in operation.

Question Contd.: And we are sharing automatic information on?

Secretary (West), Shri A Gitesh Sarma: On bank accounts in respect of Indians holding bank accounts in Switzerland.

Question: Clarification. This Mahatma Gandhi bust in Switzerland, will it be unveiled or just garlanding by the President?

Secretary (West), Shri A Gitesh Sarma: Happy to inform you that it will be unveiling of the bust in Switzerland.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you very much. This concludes briefing on Rashtrapati Ji’s visit to three countries. I thank people on the podium and I also thank you for joining in this briefing.

(Concludes)

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