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Transcript of Special Briefing on Vice President’s visit to Gabon, Senegal and Qatar (May 27, 2022)

May 28, 2022

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for joining us this afternoon on Special Media Briefing on the occasion of the forthcoming visit of Honourable Vice President to three countries - two in Africa, Gabon, and Senegal; and to Qatar, in West Asia. To give us a sense of the visit, which starts this Monday, we have actually a very high powered team here. We have, let me just introduce all of them, Shri Dammu Ravi, Secretary (Economic Relations) in the Ministry, he is looking after countries in Africa. He will talk about Gabon and Senegal in detail. We also have with us Dr. Ausaf Sayeed Sir, Secretary (CPV & OIA), who also looks after Qatar, among other charges that he has and, both of them will be with the Vice President during the visit. Also with us are the Heads of division, the Joint Secretaries looking after the countries. We have Mr. Sevala Naik. Shri Sevala Naik is Joint Secretary (Central and West Africa). And he looks after, of course, both these countries I mentioned, Gabon and Senegal. And we have Shri Vipul, Joint Secretary looking after Gulf countries in the Ministry. He will be handling the Qatar leg of the visit. So Sir, I would request you to make some brief opening remarks, give us the sense of the visit and what we're looking forward to it, and then I would request Dr. Ausaf Sayeed to speak and then we can take a few questions.

Shri Dammu Ravi, Secretary (ER): So thank you very much Arindam, and nice to meet you all and to give me the opportunity to brief you about the honourable Vice President's visit. Let me just give you an overview. And we'll come back in the question and answer session if there was to what specific areas we can call. So, the most important aspect of the visit is the first ever high level visit from India, to both Gabon and Senegal. So, Vice President is visiting these two countries from 30th May till 4th June. 4th June, he departs from Senegal and goes to Qatar. So May 31st and 1st June are the main visits in Gabon. On the 1st June, Vice President goes to Senegal from Gabon and 1st, 2nd and 3rd June are the three engagement days, and then he moves to Qatar. Now, let me put this visit of the Gabon first. So as you all know, Vice President is accompanied by four Members of Parliament, part of his delegation then their officials who are also part of his delegation. So it's a quite significant high powered delegation that is going. Of course, the focus in terms of the visit to the region is the West African region which is the francophone countries. So both Gabon and Senegal, are francophone countries, so India's engagement with Africa is enhanced, as you all are aware, since 2015, when we did the India-Africa Forum Summit, the number of visits have enhanced. So since 2014, the visits are 34 from our side and 100 incoming visits. So that actually characterizes the relationship, the prioritization, from our side in putting Africa on top of the agenda, and clearly with the guidance and direction of Honourable Prime Minister, Africa is continuing to be a priority continent for us.

And so, in terms of the Gabon, in relation to visit, so, President Ali Bongo is the main interaction that Vice President would have. He had already visited India before, he is quite familiar with India. 2015, he visited for the India-Africa Forum Summit, and then subsequently for the International Solar Alliance, he visited in 2018. So, there have been visits from that side, but from our side, this is first high level visit. So, this year, actually, an important aspect of our relationship with Gabon is that both of us are in the UN Security Council Non-Permanent Membership capacity. So in that sense, we have a very close interaction even in the multilateral fora, particularly in the UN. Our trade has improved, in the last four years, it has gone up $450, $440 million to $1.12 billion, which has almost doubled, more than doubled. So that trade which is growing with Gabon. Then ITEC and ICCR scholarships facilitate interaction of students and also capacity building. Significant number of Indian companies are present in Gabon. We have about 54 companies that are already active in the business arena.

Honourable Vice President would have interaction, one on one meeting with Gabon's Prime Minister, followed by delegation level talks. He will be calling on the President of Gabon. And then Honourable Vice President is scheduled to have a joint meeting with the President of the National Assembly and President of Senate. He will also address a business event in Gabon organized by a CII and the local Chamber of Commerce. Then the diaspora interaction, there are about 1000 strong Indian community in Gabon, who will address him and they are eagerly looking forward to Vice President’s visit there. That's about Gabon. And then Honourable Vice President goes to Senegal on the 1st June and there on the very first day of his arrival, he will have delegation level talks with the President of Senegal and again here, the President of Senegal is quite familiar with India, he had visited India in the past. So he is familiar and there have been a lot of interaction between India and Senegal. And our relationship with Senegal are also characterized by shared understanding on many issues. We are democracies, open societies and that values are binding us in a way. And this year, Senegal is the chair of the AU, African Union. So the visit actually assumes even greater importance in that context. A lot of visits have already been taking place to Senegal because it’s holding the chair of the AU. And our Honourable Vice President's visit, though it is the first high level visit from India, assumes even added significance in that context.

Bilateral trade is about $1.65 billion that has been growing quite rapidly. Our interest in Senegal in terms of trade is, it is a country that holds huge resources, natural resources, particularly, phosphate is of great interest to us to secure our fertilizers supplies from that side. Lines of credit, they've been using modestly, about 16 projects amounting to $350 million. There is the buyer’s credit for electric transmission line, which has already been used and completed. So capacity building under the ITEC has been quite active. So we're going to take forward during this visit. Honourable Vice President will engage with them to also ascertain from them what are their needs and requests. So we'll try and accommodate that. There are about 2000 strong Indian community there. Honourable Vice President will be addressing them and he will also have interaction with the business community. So the program is broadly extensive. It has several components. He will also be meeting, in addition to delegation level talks with the President of Senegal, he will also have meeting with the President of National Assembly and the other dignitaries during that time. And he will also deliver a public talk at University in Senegal, which is UCAD, it is the biggest university in West Africa and it has a lot of historical importance. That is so much. I mean, if there any clarification you need, I will be happy to let you know. But that's about Gabon and Senegal. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you Sir. May I request Secretary (CPV & OIA) to say a few things.

Shri Ausaf Sayeed, Secretary (CPV & OIA): Good afternoon, all of you. It’s a great pleasure to talk to you. The leg of Qatar is the last leg of the visit of VP in this thing and VP arrives there on 4th June. It's from 4th – 7th of June. This is a very special occasion because this is the first ever visit by Vice President of India to Qatar and this is very important in the context that the two countries are also celebrating 50th Anniversary of establishing full diplomatic relationship. This visit also is an extension of the high level contacts, which were established with Qatar in the recent times when the Emir of Qatar had visited India in 2015 and Honourable Prime Minister visited Qatar in 2016, which was also followed by Qatar’s Prime Minister's visit to India in December 2020. With respect to the elements of Honourable Vice President's visit to Doha, he will be hosted by his counterpart Deputy Emir of Qatar, His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamad Al Thani. Both the dignitaries will hold official delegation level talks, during which they will review the entire gamut of bilateral cooperation and regional and global issues of mutual interest. His Highness, Deputy Emir will also host a banquet lunch in honour of Honourable Vice President and Honourable Vice President will also meet several other Qatari dignitaries during the visit. The Vice President would also be addressing the members of the vibrant Indian diaspora in Qatar during a community reception. Qatar is home to over seven and a half lakh Indian, 750,000 Indians who are contributing meaningfully to the socio economic development of Qatar. The reception will mirror the diversity of India's diaspora in the country which includes prominent members of the Indian community, various cultural and socio-cultural organizations, businessman, professionals. There will also be a cultural event organized as part of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.

During the visit, the Vice President would also address India-Qatar business roundtable, which would include members of the Indian business delegation comprising of members from CII, FICCI and other groups, as well as members of the local chambers of commerce, Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Qatar Businessmen Association and so on and so forth. During the business visit, the Vice President is expected to also launch the India-Qatar startup bridge to link the ecosystems of the two countries. Apart from his official engagements the next day, which is June 6th , the Honourable Vice President will visit the Qatar Foundation. As you may be aware, Qatar Foundation is a non-profit organization, headed by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. It promotes education, science, health and cultural development. It also has an education city that includes well reputed institutes such as Hamad bin Khalifa University, campuses of international universities, Qatar National Library, Qatar Science and Technology Park, and others. The VP would also be visiting the National Museum of Qatar which is also an important landmark in Qatar. You are aware that Qatar is a very valued partner for India in our extended neighbourhood in the Gulf region. The modern relationship between India and Qatar is anchored in the historical and traditional exchanges between the people of the two countries. It is anchored under four pillars of energy partnership, Indian diaspora, trade and investment and defence and security. In the recent years, the multi-faceted cooperation between the two sides has witnessed significant growth in economy, energy investment, education, culture and defence. The bilateral trade in the last financial year 2021-22 has crossed $15 billion. Qatar has also committed to making investments of approximately about $2 billion in India in various sectors. Already many investments have come in, in the past. Qatar also hosts about 55 companies which are wholly owned by India and Qatar. But besides that, there are almost 15,000 companies which are jointly owned between India and Qatar operating there. Indian companies have also executed several prestigious infrastructure projects in Qatar, notably the Ahmad bin Ali stadium construction by Indian company Larsen and Toubro.

And in terms of energy partnership, Qatar is a very important biggest source for LNG and LPG supplies to India, accounting for nearly 40% and 30% of global imports respectively. Apart from that, we have a long term agreement with Qatar. We are looking at enhancing this partnership into a Comprehensive Energy Partnership. The visit would help in reaching out to both the business community as well as the leadership to further consolidate and strengthen our age old strong ties with Qatar in different domains, and this is the essence and I will be more than happy to answer anything which you may like to have.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you Sir. Thank you very much both of you Sir to give a sense of where we are. As they said, this is the first Vice Presidential visit to actually all three countries. And I think we look forward to that. Now I will open the floor for some questions. Okay, why don’t you start. Please introduce yourself and the organization for record.

Sahil: Sir I’m Sahil from ANI. My question is, Gabon and Senegal are part of the Western Africa. So how do you look at the India’s outreach to Western Africa, especially in relationship to energy?

Sidhant: Sir, Sidhant from WION. You mentioned about phosphate from Gabon, are we looking some kind of pacts when it comes to fertilizers or phosphate from Gabon, my first question. My second question, and it’s of course, the wheat prices globally are up. Has any African country reached out to us? Or are we reaching to African continent to supply them food or wheat?

Shri Dammu Ravi, Secretary (ER): Let me briefly, try to give you some insight into it. See, what's happening is West African countries also have a lot of natural resources, including the oil and gas, but these have not been fully exploited. And we see there's a lot of potential for our companies to be doing joint collaborations both in Gabon and Senegal. So, in case of Gabon, Indian companies are already present. Oil India is already there. They're in exploring, they have some small investments there also. In all the total investments of Indian companies is $300 million in Gabon. In the case of Senegal, it's still exploratory, but there is an industry, Chemical, the phosphate processing plant, where Indorama has taken over and IFFCO has a small minority stake there. So both in that sense, these are strategic. So the longer we are there, we are able to look at the energy point of view, it's a very important area for us from an energy security point of view in a long term. But these are again, decision that we made on the business interest and our own long term interest. So that will determine how deep we would like to go in, in terms of investment.

In terms of wheat, countries that have asked for wheat, see, even before the crisis they have been interested in procuring from India both rice and wheat, some countries in small quantities, some countries in large quantities. Where we have made government to government commitments, that will be honoured, I don't have a list yet, but these supplies have already gone. But right now, commercial contracts are on hold as you know this we believe is maybe a temporary situation and we will have to revisit it later. But there is interest, there is interest from African countries to source from India. For example, Senegal’s largest purchase from India is rice. Senegal largely imports rice from India. And they like to have commercial deals. I think this has been going on commercially not grants. So there is a potential for us. We have to wait and see how situation worldwide in terms of food grains is there.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you Sir. If there are no other questions? You have some more Sidhant okay.

Sidhant: How much Afghanistan situation will be there because Qatar was essentially the hub, essentially resolving or perhaps with the current situation, what has occurred in Afghanistan.

Shri Ausaf Sayeed, Secretary (CPV & OIA): Sidhant you know that Qatar has been playing a important role in Afghanistan, both with mediating with Taliban and others and it has also played an important role, US and the Western countries when they left Afghanistan, and also in the evacuation of various nationalities. So, we have been having regular discussions with various countries on Afghanistan, especially in the context of Qatar, we had the Qatar special envoy on conflict resolution, Mr. Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, who visited India in August 2021. So, that discussion is there. And of course, we have been discussing Afghanistan and also the regional developments with our partners in the Gulf, Saudi, Qatar and others. So, obviously, this is a topic of interest to everyone concerned and how things pan out in Afghanistan. So, we would welcome any kind of discussion, which is there on that and, of course, we had appreciated Qatar's constructive role which it had played in Afghanistan and as trusted partners, our regular consultations on Afghanistan, as well as other countries will continue.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much, Sir. Thank you to Secretary (ER), to Secretary (CPV) as well as to Joint Secretaries, C&WA and Gulf. Thank you for your presence today afternoon. Good Day

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