Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson in Brisbane on Prime Minister’s ongoing visit to Australia (November 14, 2014)

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin): Good evening friends and thank you very much for being here this evening.

What I will do is try to take you through today’s activities and also give you some glimpses of the Prime Minister’s schedule for tomorrow so that you can be prepared for what is in store for tomorrow.

As you are aware, Prime Minister since he came this afternoon, has had a hectic schedule. He first visited the Queensland University of Technology. There, basically it was stechnology demonstration project that they were very keen to showcase to Prime Minister. There were three elements in that project. One was of course The Cube which is a technology demonstrator in terms of how science is made easy and understandable for children. As you are aware, Prime Minister is a keen proponent of digital technology, and this was about uses of digital technology for promoting science. This was element number one in the programme.

Number two was three other projects which Prime Minister showed interest in and these relate to agriculture. The first of these was about fortification of bananas. India, as you are aware, is the largest producer of bananas in the world. However, we also realise that there are certain deficiencies which can be reduced or ameliorated by fortifying bananas especially vitamin A. So, the Queensland University of Technology and organisations in India are working on a project in this regard. This was the second element where Prime Minister did go and see how it is progressing.

In the agriculture aspect the second part was of the AgBot or the agro-robot. This is a robotic machine which can be used in Australia given the shortage that they have in terms of manpower for various aspects of agricultural production. This is their own project. They were very keen to showcase it because they felt that as technology evolves how it is being used for agriculture is an important aspect of modernising agriculture. This was the second element of that presentation.

The third was about biofuels. This was how agricultural waste is being used to produce chemicals which in turn can be used as fuels. This is a work in progress. These are the three elements.

In addition, they also indicated that since Australia is an arid country, how they are using biotechnology to improve yields in chickpeas and moong. This was an additional part that they demonstrated to Prime Minister, and the impact of this in terms of possible cooperation between India and Australia. These were the elements relating to agriculture and digital use of technology for children. This was his first set of programmes.

Subsequently the Prime Minister had three bilateral interactions. These were: (1) with the President of the EU Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, (2) with the Prime Minister of UK David Cameron, and (3) with Prime Minister of Japan Mr. Shinzo Abe. These three bilaterals were back to back starting from approximately 6 o’clock, and they went on till just about 15 minutes ago. I will try and draw together some of the main themes in those bilaterals and then I will leave it at that. If you have any questions, I will try and respond to them.

In all three one of the main themes that emerged was immense support for the India-US agreement in terms of what was agreed to yesterday to take forward to the WTO an understanding which India and the UShad reached to ensure that food security will be adequately covered even as the WTO moves on trade facilitation. All the three dignitaries who Prime Minister met congratulated the Prime Minister for arriving at that agreement, and said that this was a win-win situation for everybody. All the three said that they supported this and they hope to extend their support when this is taken up by the WTO in December. That is theme number one.

Theme number two was – of course with the first two leaders, that is the EU as well as the UK Prime Minister – the issue of India-EU Broad-based Trade and Investment and Agreement (BTIA). As you are aware, this agreement has been in discussion for seven years now. What the EU President said was that while things had progressed quite well initially, they had found that there was a sort of a logjam for about a year now. So, he requested Prime Minister that he should address this issue because it is important for the EU to intensify the relations with India. He said that India and the EU have shared values but they also have shared interests and these shared interests can be further promoted if we could move down the path of having a Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement.

Prime Minister indicated to him the areas where there were issues to be resolved. Basically the EU’s suggestion was that if there is a political will, EU was keen to re-engage on this matter. Prime Minister indicated to him that there was a new wind of change in India. He invited them to come and test it for themselves in terms of engagement with India economically and on issues relating to the BTIA. He said that India was always willing to be progressive and understanding of other’s interests while taking care of our own interests. The EU President acknowledged that the differences and Indian views were known to them but what they were looking now was for political will. Prime Minister said that there is no paucity of political will in India now. I think that was with the EU.

The EU President also said that the EU fully supports Prime Minister’s proposal for an International Yoga Day at the United Nations. He said that he himself and most of the EU Ministerswere very supportive of Indian philosophy and Indian culture and they would strongly support this proposal when it comes to the United Nations. Prime Minister thanked them for this expression of support.

You are aware that Prime Minister had yesterday raised the issue of delinking terrorism from religion. This was a theme which came up in all the three meetings – with the EU, with the UK, as well as with Japan.

Apart from the EU, Prime Minister’s meetings with the UK again focused on the bilateral trade and investment agreement, also on the WTO. In addition, Prime Minister Cameron invited Prime Minister to visit UK at an early date. He said that the UK will ensure that he would be received very warmly. Prime Minister said that he already is getting a large amount of requests from the Indian community in the UK, and will try and make it at an early date sometime next year.

There was also a discussion on the same issue that I told you, the need to delink religion from terrorism. And there was a resonance in all the three meetings that he had for it. There was a general acceptance and willingness to address these issues. These were only sconceptual reference made during the discussion. I think that is about it for the UK.

As regards Japan, there were fairly long and detailed discussions about bilateral ties between India and Japan. These were largely in the realm of economic ties. The Japanese Prime Minister thanked Prime Minister for setting up this Japan Plus Initiative whereby Japanese companies would be able to get their proposals examined and processed very quickly along with people who know Japanese and are well-conversant of Japanese requirements. Prime Minister said that he had established a very high-level monitoring system so that things are kept on track.

There was also a discussion about the Kyoto-Varanasi Initiative that was taken. Prime Minister thanked the Japanese Prime Minister for sending, I think the Deputy Mayor of Kyoto did come to Varanasi recently. He said now that hopes have been kindled, he feels that they have to move further down this. And he suggested that it would be useful to have a high-level mechanism to monitor how these things progress in the future.

There was also a discussion on a variety of multilateral issues including recent discussions between Japan and China on the sidelines of the APEC Summit, the forthcoming issues at the G20, as well as matters of the G4. As you are aware, India, Japan, Brazil and Germany are part of the G4 which is making a concerted attempt to reform the United Nations Security Council. So, there was a lot of discussion about the effort that the G4 needs to take to promote their cause since the 70th anniversary of the United Nations would be next year.

That I think sums up broadly the issues. If I missed out some possibly, I am willing to clarify those or anything else that you may want about today. Then at the end of that I will also respond about tomorrow. I presume you would want to know what the programme tomorrow would be. Thank you very much. The floor is now open. You can ask me questions..

Question:Prime Minister before he left for this tour of three countries, you have issued that statement in which he had said that he will be raising the issue of international cooperation against black money. Was that issue raised in the bilaterals that he had?

Official Spokesperson: This is an issue which will come up and it is on the agenda of the G20. It was raised today and discussed in the context of Prime Minister’s discussion with Prime Minister Abe on the agenda of the G20 and what India sees as a need to address. So, this was an issue which was discussed in the rubric of tomorrow’s likely discussions in the G20.

Question:There is this small controversy around the map that was shown in QUT during a presentation by the research scholars. We were told that an apology has been issued when the matter was raised by the MEA. Could you please elaborate on that part?

Official Spokesperson: Government of India takes any depiction of maps of India very seriously. We did notice in the presentation that was being done by the scientists today there was a map where the boundaries of India were not being depicted correctly. Immediately the Foreign Secretary raised it with the scientists concerned. They were actually extremely apologetic and regretted that this was an error on their part. They also were not aware of how cartographic depictions could be a sensitive issue. They are scientists, they had no knowledge of what error that they had committed but they were very prompt in acknowledging their error and offering an unconditional regret and apology. Basically they were trying to promote scientific projects and trying to explain scientific projects between India and Australia and how they were going about. So, this was an error on their part. They regretted it and offered an unqualified apology for that.

If none of you have any questions, then I will just tell you about tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be the G20 opening in the afternoon. But before that usually the BRICS countries meet informally on the margins of the G20. So, there will be a meeting from 8:30 tomorrow morning of the BRICS. At an informal get-together all the BRICS leaders will be present there. They will come out with a press statement at the end of that on what are the issues that they will discuss etc. Usually those are the issues which are likely to come up, or they feel are of importance in the discussions in the G20. That is number one.

In the afternoon at 2:15 most likely, Prime Minister will have a meeting with the French President Mr. Francois Hollande. In the evening he has a meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister Mr. Stephen Harper. In addition, he is likely to participate in the plenary sessions of the G20. The way this system works is that there are no fixed slots. When issues are raised, interventions are made. In addition I think the Prime Minister has been invited specifically by the Australian Prime Minister Mr. Abbott to make an intervention in the retreat part of the G20 and that he will be making separately. But that is at the retreat session. That is a specific request to the Prime Minister to speak in the retreat on certain issues that Prime Minister Abbott felt it would be good to hear from the Prime Minister. And then they will have a working lunch. That is it.

Question:This intervention in the retreat is likely at what time?

Official Spokesperson: There is no time. Let me tell you how they work. They are amongst themselves aend they have one aid. So, there are no structured discussions on specific issues. Prime Minister as you know will be assisted by his Sherpa Mr. Suresh Prabhu. Incidentally, I also recollect that Prime Minister has raised as opportunities with the UK, with EU and with Japan, his intention to modernise the Railways. And he said that railway modernisation in various aspects is a priority for him both in terms of railway stations, railway client services, use of digital technology.

He gave a whole list of possible railway modernisation including, he mentioned with the Japanese Prime Minister, the Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet train which the Japanese had offered to conduct a DPR on. And he said that this has been going on for a long time, let us move from talk to action. And he made some suggestions to the Japanese Prime Minister in this regard. The Japanese Prime Minister said he will take back these and see whether it is possible. He was quite understanding of this and said he will have to work through his system how to respond to some of these suggestions that Prime Minister made.

Question:On this discussion on multilateral issues, can you further elaborate on the Japan and China sidelines, what exactly …(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: This was a presentation that the Japanese Prime Minister made about how they see their relationship since they had not met for a long time at the leaders’ level and what were the outcomes, how they see it going forward. It is not proper for me to tell you what the Japanese view of that is. But this was the crux of the discussion. He did explain at some length how the Japanese are approaching these things.

Question:We were told in New Delhi that India would try to build a consensus for reducing cost of remittances. What is going on on this?

Official Spokesperson: That is a priority issue for India. As you are aware, there are three or four priority issues. Number one priority is that, and this is for the G20 as a whole which we are very strongly supportive of, growth should be at least two per cent more than what it is over the next five years. So, the thinking is that if the global economy has to be put back on its track, then Indian economy also has to grow very rapidly. That is number one.

Priority number two was, as you said, remittances. That is that the amount of service fees that are paid for remittances is today fairly high. The intention is that if they can be brought down by some percentage in a phased manner. That is number two.

Number three of course is this automatic exchange of information regarding bank accounts for tax purposes. These are three broad priorities which have been listed by the Sherpa, and some of these issues will come up for discussion tomorrow.

Question:On the Bilateral Trade and Investment with the EU, what did the PM refer to in terms of say India’s concerns? When he says political will is strong, did he actually give any examples about decisions taken?

Official Spokesperson: I think the issues are well known. There are two basic issues – one is greater opening up in the services sector and the other is on the automobiles sectors. These are the two major issues which have stalled further progress in the BTIA. That said, what the Prime Minister indicatedwas that at this stage obviously it is not possible for India to accommodate the EU’s interest in these areas, and the EU President understood this. What he said was that if there was a political will to engage, we could then take it further.

And then Prime Minister laid out clear vision of how during the last six months several steps had been taken to indicate a clear political will for reform. For example, he said 100 per cent FDI in railways, 49 per cent FDI in defence. He also said that his intention is to ensure that India will go up rapidly in terms of ease of doing business index. And he listed out several other things but these are the broad things that I can quickly list out.

Question:The Prime Minister had said that he would like to use the G20 as a forum to build a consensus on black money. Has it been taken up in any of the bilaterals so far, and is it on the agenda? And what do you hope will emerge in a more concrete fashion so that this talk can translate into action?

Official Spokesperson: Rahul, number one I mentioned that this came up as part of the G20 discussions with Japan because it was only with Japan that we discussed G20 issues given the time available for these meetings. So, G20 issues were discussed at some length with Japan and then this came up. As regards the black money, the same thing is in a different manner. If you have automatic exchange of information in terms of people having bank accounts across the globe and this is automatic. As of now you have bilateral treaties with different countries. First of all you have to negotiate such a treaty with every country. Second thing is that under that treaty again it is not automatic, you have to make a request.

What we are trying as part of a G20 process is to have an automatic exchange of such information without making a request because when you make a request then you get caveats. This is a work in progress. We do not expect that this G20 will immediately go for this. But we are confident that this is gaining currency. I think the timeline that was laid out last time was 2017 to 2018 would be the time whereby our tax authorities will be able to have access automatically about bank accounts of Indians outside as will anybody else having in India. So, each country will have in a transparent manner and without asking, access to that information which of course will be used for tax purposes and to check whether there is avoidance of tax which in another form is black money.

Question:On the WTO earlier you mentioned that it is a win-win situation for all. Could you amplify it a little bit more …(Inaudible)…?

Official Spokesperson: Let me try and tell you what the EU said. They said that they are happy India and US had worked out an understanding, that they welcome it, they support it, they have always supported this issue. Even in July they were willing to adjust to it. Now that the US has agreed to it they are fully on board. This is what the EU said. And with the UK it is the same thing because actually EU negotiates on behalf of all of European Union members.

As regards the Japanese Prime Minister, he is the one who said that this understanding is a win-win situation for both India and for the rest of the world because now the WTO process can move further.

As you are aware, once this agreement and the Trade Facilitation Agreement happens this would be the first time that the WTO since its inception has moved concretely. Therefore, the whole world is looking at this moment.

Question:Is there any possibility at all of meeting with President Obama?

Official Spokesperson: Prime Minister did meet President Obama two days ago, and they did have a short talk. As you are aware, these agreements do not work out unless they are prodded at senior levels. One day before President Obama said I knew you are a man of action, and the next day India and the US got on to an agreement. You know what they were talking about there. I do expect that when the leaders meet there will be some pow-wows or pull asides etc. But as I said, it is only going to be the leaders and one aide. So, unlike the last time you may not even get a photograph.

Last time I was there, so the camera was available. But I do not think Mr. Suresh Prabhu will carry his camera.

Thank you very much. We will meet tomorrow.

(Concluded)

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