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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary after BRICS Leaders’ Informal meeting in Osaka

June 28, 2019

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:Friends, good afternoon and welcome to the second briefing of the day from Osaka. Since our last briefing there have been three engagements of the Prime Minister. Prime Minister participated in the BRICS Leaders’ meeting and followed by two bilateral meetings with Saudi Arabia and Republic of Korea. I have with me the Foreign Secretary who will brief us on all the three engagements. Sir, the floor is yours.

Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale:Thank you. You would have of course seen live the Prime Minister’s statement at the BRICS Leaders’ Meeting and the joint media statement is also up on the website. I just want to therefore very briefly flag that in the joint media statement there are several significant points which India has introduced and which for us as a country is important and the Prime Minister has been stressing this at the G20 as well as BRICS.

Firstly, I think we all agree that BRICS all five countries to sustain a favorable global environment for international trade and that BRICS countries represent now a significant part of that global growth and the Prime Minister’s view has consistently been that India is an engine now for the global growth and will be a bigger engine in the future and therefore we have a role to play.

I want to draw your attention in particular to the important point made in the BRICS statement about the interface between trade and the digital economy and also to affirm the role of data for development. From our perspective data is a major issue, it is an issue which we are also domestically looking at where international rule-making is taking place, our view and the view of the other BRICS countries is that this should be discussed within the WTO context and not outside the WTO context and that data also needs to take into account the requirements of developing countries. It is a new form of wealth and therefore this particular point in the BRICS statement coming as it does when the WTO is looking into framing international rules for data is important.

Prime Minister, as you know, has for the last couple of years been talking of reformed multilateralism. Multilateral institutions needs to remain, but they also deserve to be reformed and in that context, I therefore want to point to that particular paragraph in this BRICS statement which talks of our "Commitment to multilateralism and international law but also talks of the necessary reforms of the organizations with a view to better addressing current and future challenges in international trade.” This is also shared by the other BRICS members.

Lastly, I want to mention that there is a mention of the institutions that the BRICS have setup in the last few years particularly the New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement. These are working well. Actually the New Development Bank has begun significant lending operations including two projects in India. They are looking at the possibility of inducting new members in the future and we are also therefore looking at creating new institutions within BRICS, in that context the Prime Minister in his speech referred to the initiative that we have taken for this Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure and sought the support of other BRICS countries China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa for this purpose.

Finally, of course the paragraph on terrorism is important for us. All the BRICS countries have condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. It is reiterated that the responsibility for preventing financing of terrorism, for using territories for terrorist purposes, for exploitation of the internet for terrorist purposes and to eliminate their ability to use digital platforms to recruit people, to train people, to raise finances and so on. So, in a nutshell I think the BRICS meeting has been something that we can take satisfaction from.

Subsequent to that was a meeting with His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. You recall that the Crown Prince had visited India in February and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman recalled his February visit with a lot of warmth. He felt it was a very successful visit. He was one of the leaders to congratulate our Prime Minister on his election and Prime Minister recalled that he had very warm words on that occasion.

As you know we setup a strategic partnership council when the Crown Prince came in February at the leadership level to make an assessment of the bilateral relationship to see how we can get Saudi investments in to India, how to secure our energy requirements from the Saudis and so on, so they had brief discussion on that.

Prime Minister, of course, welcome the Saudi initiative announced in February to get up to a $100 billion in investments. Naturally, both leaders discussed the situation in the Gulf. They agreed and the Prime Minister said that this could affect the oil supplies and the pricing of oil, both of these are important for India and Prime Minister particularly appreciated the efforts made by Saudi Arabia in ensuring that the oil supplies have remained stable and oil prices have remained predictable in the last few months. And he said that the Saudi Arabia’s leadership role going ahead in this area in keeping a balance in the global oil market is important for the region and for the rest of the world.

The Crown Prince himself characterized the relationship as strong, he said there is no doubt about that and he said these are relations between the peoples of the two countries, country to country and leader to leader. And he felt that it was therefore duty of both sides to work together. He said that he had worked to keep the oil prices sustainable and supply regular and he said that Saudi Arabia will continue to play this role in the future.

Both Prime Minister and the Crown Prince were quite happy at the growth in trade last year, about 20%, and both of them agreed this reflects our efforts on the ground to see that we diversify our trade with Saudi Arabia.

As you know the Crown Prince had promised the Prime Minister that the Haj quota would be raised from 170 thousand annually to 200 thousand annually, this is important and this is being done. In fact in the Haj which will begin very shortly 200 thousand Indians will have the opportunity to go for Haj.

They spoke about the need for greater tourism, more flights and finally both leaders agreed that they would meet again. The Crown Prince has invited the Prime Minister to be one of the main guest at an international conference later this year and Prime Minister has accepted the invitation with pleasure. The details will of course be worked out subsequently and as and when the dates and other details are known at some later stage, our spokesman will formally announce that.

The last meeting was a brief meeting with the President of the Republic of Korea and this was essentially focused almost entirely on bilateral relations. The issue of how to review the comprehensive economic partnership agreement which is the FTA, it’s a name for the FTA; was discussed. Prime Minister said that we are open to improving this, trade is important but access in services is equally important for India. We must be more ambitious in this regard and we need to have a free trade agreement which reflects the investment and the technology and the services side and not just the trade in goods.

The President of Korea mentioned that they have recently liberalized group visas for Indian tourists. He said that this was a step that they had taken and they would expect more Indian tourists to visit South Korea. They also discussed further aspects of trying to improve the visa regime including how we could give longer term stay permits for Korean nationals who are working in Korean companies and who have Korean investment in India. And finally the President said that Korea has a new Southern Policy, a policy which encourages diversification of Korean trade and investment and that India is one of the main focus points and we hope one of the main beneficiaries of this policy.

He recalled Prime Minister’s Act East policy and he has suggested that we have to synergize the two policies i.e. Korea’s Southern Policy and India’s Act East Policy and the two Prime Ministers have discussed the possibility of setting up some sort of a mechanism or a channel for discussion to ensure that this is synergized on a regular basis and doesn’t just wait for leader’s meeting to take place.

So essentially the discussion was mainly bilateral and it was brief because of time constraints as the opening session was to begin. So far these are the three meetings that have been held. There are a few more engagements that Prime Minister has in the afternoon particularly the meeting with the German Chancellor and also the meeting of the Russia-India-China trilateral which will be his last engagement before the cultural event and I will brief you about that as soon as those meetings are over. Thank you.

Question: We saw the tweet on the bilateral between the Prince Minister and Saudi Prince, you mentioned counter-terrorism. Can you give us the details about what kind of measures both sides are discussing. And on BRICS you said expanding of the New Development Bank; have you considered the countries? Have any applications have come?

Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale:On the New Development Bank, at this stage, the board of governors has just taken an in-principle decision to see whether we can expand the bank. The specific countries and all have not been identified and that’s a procedure. I think the point that I wish to make and the point that is also made in the BRICS statement is that in a short period of maybe five years or so we have actually established a viable banking institution, a multi-lateral banking institution and that institution has begun lending significantly and focusing on green investments.

So I think what essentially BRICS has been able to demonstrate in the last five years is that we not only have five important Heads of State and Government to talk but who actually act and I think those who were skeptical of BRICS and felt that this is an artificial creation of Goldman Sachs and there is no capacity for BRICS to grow, I think essentially that is what has been proved wrong. When we set up institutions like International Banking Institution, the Contingent Reserve Arrangement, when we take a common position on the WTO reform, when we take a common position on terrorism, it is not just a talk shop, it is a do shop and I think that is important.

Question Contd.: and on terrorism?

Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale:On terrorism with Saudi Arabia it was a very brief discussion. Essentially both sides agreed that we need to work together and we have a joint mechanism to do so, to fight this menace globally. Prime Minister, as you know, has been talking of the need for a global conference on terrorism because he feels that while there are global issues which are dealt with or rather global conferences on many other issues, this is one issue which affects all of us and it is not dealt with.

Terrorism subject was much more widely dealt with in the BRICS leaders’ meeting rather than individual meetings.

Question:Could you elaborate that during the BRICS leaders’ meeting when the Prime Minister raised the issue of terrorism, did the other countries also shared their views given the idea what Prime Minister proposed about having a global conference, did the leaders welcomed the idea, shared that idea or the coalition for disaster resilient infrastructure or whatever the Prime Minister suggested, those five points. Did they echo in the other statements of other leaders?

Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale:You know under the BRICS format essentially each leader has a designated time to speak given the constraints of such meetings in the margins. So this is not a big summit and the discussion does not take place in the free flowing manner that it does in the summit.

I also was not there for many of the statements because I was briefing the media on the US-India engagement but what I can say is that on the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure we have individually approached all the G20 countries and we have got a very positive response from them and that includes the four BRICS members.

Naturally this is not G20 driven initiative, this is India driven initiative with countries outside the G20 also, so we are working in that direction.

On terrorism, I think if you saw the statements of the others, they are in sync with us and the fact that the joint statement contains, from our purpose, and adequate reaffirmation of their positions.

Question:As you told all of us that data should be discussed in WTO format, can you elaborate further what is the context of ……………………… Inaudible ……………and you have President Trumps’ tweet on this.

Question: As you know that USA, Japan and Australia are pushing for free flow of data, and we are talking about data for development. And there is a big statement on it. SO do you think there are big groupings on data sovereignity?

Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale:Both your questions are related. I think, essentially, we would like the international rule making on data to be done within the WTO context because movement of data is actually one form of trade. So therefore our position has been and this is the position shared by all the BRICS countries that these negotiations should not be done in groupings outside the WTO, be that the G20 or be that a group of countries within the WTO who may start negotiations or be that individual countries who take positions.

Now this is important because in the future as the digital economy grows the flow of data will be critical to trade and therefore the rule making must involve all countries and must in the manner that when trade was being discussed, when services were being discussed, efforts were made to give latitude to developing countries and to the least developed countries. In the same manner we expect data, once the rules are made, to make a similar latitude for developing countries and least developed countries so that we do not create a digital divide.

So in fact the question is very pertinent. In that, I think the message that our Prime Minister is sending and the message that BRICS is sending is that we need to do this collectively in institutions which are sanctioned for that purpose.

As far as free flow of data is concerned, I think this is also important. We would like to understand what is meant by free flow of data, because data is also, in a sense, a part of national wealth. On the other hand the flow of data is important in a globalized world. So essentially we will be talking to a number of developed countries including United States and Japan on what they mean by free flow of data. We feel that we need to understand this issue and eventually synergize it with what our domestic requirement are and then come in to the WTO to negotiate on this matter.

I think this is one of the focal points of the G20 and it will be a focal point going ahead as well.

Question:Was Iran and regional situation discussed with the Saudi Crown Prince?

Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale:No, Iran was not discussed specifically, what was in fact discussed as I explained was that Prime Minister indicated that we need to have a continuous supply of oil at predictable prices and he says that the Saudis have a critical role to play in ensuring this. He thanked the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia for ensuring that as of now there is a balance in the oil market and the Saudi Crown Prince said that going forward Saudi Arabia will continue to play this role.

So in a sense, I think, there was an underlying concern conveyed that the instability that is happening in the Gulf, manifesting itself in the Gulf should not adversely impact on India to a greater degree than it already has because we have reduced imports from Iran and Venezuela. But the subject of Iran as such did not come up in discussions with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

Question: Could you give me a comment about the USA President complaining about the Indian Tariffs on Twitter yesterday?

Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale:I have already spoken about this when I briefed, well essentially I think both leaders have agreed that they will now task their officials dealing with trade to have discussions to resolve these matters.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:Thank you all for joining.

(Concludes)

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