Visits Visits

Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (East) during visit of Vice President to Paraguay (March 07, 2019)

March 08, 2019

Under Secretary(Digital Diplomacy), Ms. Sneha Dubey: Good morning every one. Thank you for being here with us today on a special media briefing on Vice President’s visit to Paraguay. We have with us here Secretary (East) Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh, Ambassador of India who is concurrently accredited to Paraguay Shri Sanjeev Ranjan and we have the Jt. Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs dealing with Latin America and Caribbean Shri G V Srinivas. Over to the Secretary (East) now.

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh: Good morning. As you all are aware Hon’ble Vice President is currently on a two nation visit to the Latin American and Caribbean region.

The first leg of the visit is an official visit to Paraguay. Hon’ble Vice President arrived on 5th evening at Asuncion, capital of Paraguay which is one of the oldest cities in South America. On the 6th Vice President began his official engagements by paying homage at the National Pantheon of Heroes. It is a monument in memory of the heroes of Paraguay.

Thereafter Vice President began discussions with the leadership of Paraguay. He had a meeting with the President Mario Abdo Benitez, thereafter he had a meeting with the Vice President Hugo Velazquez with whom he had restricted meeting, delegation level talks and Vice President Velazquez hosted him for an official banquet.

Later the President of the National Congress, the Senate His Excellency Sylvio Ovelar called on Vice President. This is the first ever high level visit from India to Paraguay. We established diplomatic relations 56 years ago in 1961 and this visit being the first ever high level visit from India to Paraguay is itself historic and a milestone in our relationship.

We did have a visit from Paraguay to India, the then President Fernando, who had visited in 2012.

The visit was marked with warm hospitality, the Vice President was warmly welcomed. The talks were productive covering areas of mutual interest and during the talks the commitment was evident from both sides to strengthen and deepen the relationship. The meeting with the President Abdo Benitez, in that meeting President recalled his visit to India 25 years ago as a student of which he had very-very fond memories. He was deeply impressed and is remains deeply impressed with the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi and he mentioned that once a year he does read a book on Mahatma Gandhi. He also said that Indian cuisine has become one of his favorite cuisines. So that is the background of personal linkages that were evident during the talk with the President.

As far as the discussions were concerned President was deeply appreciative of India’s economic growth and India’s technological strength as well as its large domestic market and India’s experience and expertise in a range of fields.

He also mentioned and we are also aware that Paraguay has had steady economic growth in the last 15 years and it is a large agriculture base. With these complementarities there is a strong base for building the relationship.

Moreover both are democracies and both have similar demographic profile in the sense that the population of both the countries of youth is more than 65 percent. That itself means engagement between our youth would help strengthen our relationship in future as well.

Hon’ble Vice President apprised the Paraguay leadership of the terrorist attack that took place in Pulwama on 14th of February. The Paraguay leadership on its part mentioned that they condemn strongly the terror attack on India. They conveyed their condolences to the families of those whose lives were lost in that attack. They conveyed that on terrorism India and Paraguay are on the same page and that India could count on the support of Paraguay in fighting threats of international terrorism including at the international fora.

So Paraguay’s condemnation of terrorism and its absolutely full support in the fight against terrorism is most welcome.

As far as the economic relationship is concerned, trade has been growing. It has grown tenfold, it was $40 million ten years ago and today it stands close to $375 million. So this healthy growth rate is welcome but there was a recognition on both sides that we need to diversify and expand our trade basket. In that context Hon’ble Vice President spoke of India meeting Paraguay needs in intermediate engineering goods, in pharma products and agriculture machinery and equipment.

There was also discussion on how to work through Mercosur, India has a preferential trade agreement with Mercosur which is a regional grouping in Latin America. Currently we are about 450 tariff lines and India would like to expand it further to 2000 tariff lines. There was acknowledgement by both sides that Mercosur could also be explored to further look at complementarities between our two economies.

As far as investment is concerned, some Indian companies are already based here in Paraguay, something that was mentioned by President Benitez as well as Vice President Velazquez. They appreciated their presence here in many fields and the President of Paraguay invited Indian companies to come and invest more and more here in Paraguay referring to the fact that there is cheap and abundant supply of electricity and their natural resources and they do have a policy which welcomes foreign investments.

Vice President was welcome to this and said that we would encourage the Indian companies to invest here in Paraguay but he did mention that it would be good to have a framework of investment related agreements whether it is the bilateral investment treaty or the double taxation avoidance agreement.

As the discussions proceeded there was identification of new areas of collaboration, energy in particular renewable energy, health including traditional medicines, ICT, space, biotechnology, railways and tourism related infrastructure.

Significantly the Paraguay leadership welcomed India’s willingness to share its expertise and experience in these fields. We are already working with Paraguay through capacity building programs, in particular ITEC program. Vice President indicated that India was willing to step up its collaboration and capacity building efforts with Paraguay through its ITEC program as well as scholarships to Paraguayan students who come there and he also encouraged people to people contacts which would help strengthen the relationship.

Tourism was mentioned in particular, the accompanying minister, Minister of State K J Alphons spoke about the immense potential that exists between the two countries on the tourism sector. To build people to people contacts there was discussion on how to make travel easier between two countries. Paraguay assured that they would look at issues for making it easier to get visas in particular to the business people. So we do hope that with that we do have more travel between the two countries.

As far as the Parliamentary delegations are concerned there was a delegation that went from here to India in 2010 and then there was Indian parliamentary delegation that came here in 2012. Hon’ble Vice President invited a parliamentary delegation to visit India to continue the engagement between the countries, between the parliaments given that both of us are democracies.

The visit of Hon’ble Vice President also takes place in the year when we are celebrating 150 years of the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation. Hon’ble Vice President conveyed that India would gift a bust of Mahatma Gandhi which will now be installed in Asunción. That is Vice President’s gift to Paraguay. We also have agreed that the two countries will have joint celebrations for the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and in this context a commemorative stamp had been issued by the Paraguayan government which was jointly released by the two Vice Presidents yesterday.

Another area on which there was discussion is the International Solar Alliance. It was mentioned by the President of Paraguay that the Paraguay has the highest per capita of renewable energy in the world and he appreciated the noble initiative taken by India and France, the International Solar Alliance, and conveyed that they are working on the internal processes with the end result to join the ISA. We welcome that.

We discussed various issues related to India and other international developments. We took up India’s candidature of some of the elections that India would be fighting in various international and multinational fora this year. Paraguay assured its support to our candidature after internal processes are completed on their side.

We signed an MoU for training of diplomats between the Foreign Services Institute of India and the Paraguayan counterpart and that would help in building better understanding of each other foreign policy perspectives.

It was agreed that the foreign office consultations, which is the institutional mechanism through which our countries discuss bilateral collaboration. It was agreed that the foreign office consultations will be held this year and they will be tasked with following up on the discussions which took place at the Vice President’s visit and to explore new areas of institutional linkages, how those can be strengthened.

I can tell you that the President of Paraguay gifted the traditional attire of Paraguay, which is a Poncho, hand-made Poncho to our Vice President and that was a gesture which was deeply appreciated given that both the countries have long tradition of their cultures and that was appreciated.

Vice President interacted with the Indian community yesterday and it was an interaction which showed that the community here is contributing to the Paraguay economy and moreover the Paraguayan leadership acknowledges the contribution of the Indian community. So all in all this was a historical visit, it was a milestone in our bilateral relations and it will give momentum to our relations and as we leave the city it is with a sense of satisfaction that our relationship will be growing. Vice President invited the President and the Vice President of Paraguay to visit India which was accepted and the dates will be worked out through mutual consultation.

We end our visit today in Paraguay when Vice President will be addressing India-Paraguay Business Forum and from there we would leave for the airport to the next leg of journey which is Costa Rica. Thank you.

Under Secretary(Digital Diplomacy), Ms. Sneha Dubey: Thank you Ma’am. We would now invite questions from you.

Question from Financial Express: I just wanted to ask you that in Delhi I heard that Mercosur member countries are not giving dates for further negotiations. So did this come up for discussion because Paraguay was also a member and there was some talks that there was some resistance from this side, that is number one. And another, in the agri sector what is it that you are looking at? Is it contractual farming or is it just selling machinery and technology to them?

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh: Mercosur, as I mentioned that it did come up for discussion and both India and Paraguay were of the view that that regional block did give opportunities to look at complementarities on the trade and economic side. As far as the scheduling of the talks are concerned, I think it is something there is always a discussion on, so lets see when the dates gets finalized.

As far as agriculture is concerned, I think it is little more than working on exports, it was exports definitely, it was sharing expertise, it was looking at the India’s research in agriculture it was also that we do have a strong agriculture equipment and machinery, we could be looking at supplying that equipment here. There was discussion that we should have agriculture delegation and business organizations from agriculture who could discuss and see how to further collaborate with each other.

Interestingly it was mentioned that mango is grown here as well as in India, that was mentioned by the President himself and we can look at agro-processing and further industrialization of agriculture produce. So it was a wide ranging discussion covering various aspects and it could lead to considerable collaboration between our two countries.

Question from Malayala Manorama: Just wanted to know, can you just elaborate on the collaboration that we both countries are going to deal with the menace of global terror, will Paraguay name Pakistan in the international fora? And the second one is I would like to know about the cooperation that we are having in the space sector like the nature, how are we going help Paraguay?

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh: As far as space is concerned Paraguay side does has a nascent space program and they are looking at how to develop the space program. In the discussions that took place Hon’ble Vice President spoke about India’s experience in the space sector. He indicated that we could work together in terms of resource mapping in Paraguay.

Second, we could look at sharing global data on weather, disaster management, third the issue of manufacture and launching of Paraguay satellite on commercial basis could also be a possibility. So space sector is also there where we could have further collaboration.

As far as terrorism is concerned, I think it was very clear that there was unequivocal condemnation of terrorism by the government of Paraguay and the leadership of Paraguay. They said in no uncertain terms that terrorism is a threat and it is a threat that needs global collaboration. They repeated that India and Paraguay are on the same page, we can count on their support in the fight against terrorism.

They referred to their own signing of UN Conventions on terrorism, which is 16 out of 19 that they have signed. So you can see that Paraguay recognizes the threat of terrorism and they recognize that the attack in Pulwama needed to be condemned and they condemned it.

Question Contd.: DO they recognize that the Pulwama attack was mastered from the Pakistan soil?

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh: They recognized that it was a terrorist attack.

Question: I just wanted to know if you also had a discussion in the education sector. I mean there was as per the joint statement that you have shared with us but what kind, are you willing to set up schools here or training institutes or is there any kind of a plan for exchange of university students at some stage?

Secretary (East), Smt. Vijay Thakur Singh: There was discussion that we can look at, we are already giving some scholarships and to look at more scholarships to the Paraguayan students coming to India.

There was discussion of establishing university to university contacts. We do have a national knowledge network. So we will work to see how can we plug all this together to have a better exchange in the education sector recognizing the fact that both our countries have young population, both are youthful nations and that sector will be an opportunity to work together not only for sharing knowledge today but also building bonds of friendship for the future.

Under Secretary(Digital Diplomacy), Ms. Sneha Dubey: If there are no further questions we would like to conclude this media briefing. Thank you everyone for coming.

(Concludes)



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