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Transcript of Media Briefing on the visit of President of France to India (March 09, 2018)

March 10, 2018

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Namaskar and welcome back once again. I can promise that this is the third and final briefing and we have nothing after this. This is a special briefing on the visit of President of France to India from March 09 to 12. I have with me Nagaraj Naidu, Jt. Secretary (Europe West) who will brief us on the visit. He has also agreed to take questions on the International Solar Alliance. He has agreed to take only questions on ISA, he will not brief you as that briefing has already taken place.

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: Good afternoon. Let me first of all brief you on our engagement with France.

India has a strategic partnership with France that was the first strategic partnership, one of the earlier ones in 1998. This is year we are celebrating 20 years of our strategic partnership. Both countries we see a lot of convergence of views on a range of international issues apart from close and growing bilateral relations across a range of areas France has continued to support India’s claim for a permanent membership to the Security Council and reforms of the United Nations and has provided consistent support to India’s candidature for membership to all the multilateral export control regimes and particularly supported India’s perspective on terrorism in South Asia.

Civil nuclear, space and defence had traditionally have been the tripod of this engagement but in recent years we are seeing greater convergence in new areas particularly maritime security, counter terrorism and renewable energy. Which as you particularly know you will be seeing that Prime Minister Modi and French President Macron will be co-chairing the International Solar Alliance, the founding conference, which will be happening on Sunday on March 11.

You will also be surprised to know that we have a very deep engagement with France in the area of space, it is a very matured engagement of 50 years of partnership. We now would like to take this engagement to a new level, hopefully you will get to see that at the end of this visit. Maritime security in the Indian Ocean region is a very important area where we are working together with France. Counter terrorism is an area wherein we already have a dialogue at the same time we have a very rich ongoing economic partnership. Not many people know that there are close to a thousand French companies in India and they have invested a little over close to $7 billion. We have a number of French R&D institutions in India working on very high tech areas and this is an engagement that is going to grow in the coming years.

For your information we have a bilateral trade engagement close to $11 billion. It is a very evenly balanced engagement, we don’t have major areas of concerns when it comes to trade. We don’t have any conflict so this is one of those engagements which is not just with the P5 nations but it’s a very good engagement as far as any sector that you will take whether it is political, economic, cultural sphere, and people to people exchanges.

We have a very large Indian community in France and in French territories. In France itself we have Indian community a little over 1 lakh, it’s a very large number and there are five Parliamentarians of Indian origin in France, four of them have participated, I don’t know if you know, we had the PIO Parliamentarians Conference in January in Delhi and a few of them had participated in that.

The French Development Agency (FDA), they call it ADF, they have made substantial investments in this country particularly in Kochi, Nagpur and Bangalore Metro. At the same time you will see that France is increasingly engaging in this country in a number of areas particularly the renewable energy sector. This will see a far much more substantial expression in the coming days.

If you permit perhaps I could go with you about the program. So essentially the French President will arrive tonight at about 10:00 pm and next day we start with the ceremonial. We arrive at the forecourt at about 9:00 am and apart from the ceremonial we depart for Rajghat wherein we have the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi, the wreath laying will take place there. Then the French President has a program at Alliance Francaise, so he goes there and meets students, one of the first public interactions that he will have in India.

After that we will have the official talks at Hyderabad House and apart from the bilateral we will have the CEO forum. The CEOs of both countries are meeting a day in advance and they will report out to the leaders. And then we also have exchange of agreements. The French President is also interacting with students at Bikaner House in the afternoon and in the evening Rashtrapati Ji is hosting a welcome banquet. For your information this welcome banquet is not only a bilateral banquet he is also hosting a banquet for all the Heads of State, Heads of Government, Vice Presidents and leaders of delegations who are going to participate in the ISA Founding Conference. So this is a very large and elaborate affair.

On March 11, we have the ISA. The Founding Conference is a daylong affair, it starts at about 9:00 and ends at about 6:30 – 7:00. The French President is not going to be there throughout. He will be there for the plenary session and he will be going on a private visit to Agra. The next day he will be travelling to Uttar Pradesh, he will be visiting two areas. One is Mirzapur wherein there is the inauguration of a 75 megawatt solar power project. Apart from that I think they are also visiting Varanasi and pretty much that sums up his visit and he departs from there. So the visit essentially is starting on the 9th and it ends on the 12th March.

Question: Is the Prime Minister also going to Varanasi?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: That is the expectation.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you Nagaraj, it is now time for questions and answers.

Question: In 2010 the then President of France Sarkozi and Dr. Manmohan Singh entered into an agreement so far as Jaitapur area actually. So it is almost seven years now, is there any update or is there going to be any discussion on Jaitapur power project during the visit of the President?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: I think a number of issues will be discussed. I think this could be one of the issues. So we know the timeline, but these are projects which take time but it is definitely among the agenda items among other items too.

Question: This is about the solar alliance. What is the total number of countries who have actually signed up for the ISA and how many of them are sending their delegations to the meeting on Sunday and what are the main objectives of the summit as such?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: If you see the countries that are signing up are actually signing by the day. This is till last night. Last night the total number of countries that have signed the ISA framework agreement are 60 and 30 countries have ratified it. Countries that actually signed means that they will immediately initiate the process of ratification, 30 countries have done that.

In the last briefing we have informed that the ISA had become a legal entity on 6 December and in February the ISA was registered formally with the UN as a legal entity, as an international treaty based organization. To answer your question as to how many of these countries are going to participate, 23 of the ratified countries are participating and 24 of the signatory countries will be participating, so together about 47. So 47 heads of delegation will be coming to the founding conference.

121 is the prospective member countries, so you have already reached the 50 percent number. End of the day this is a framework agreement so countries read up the framework agreement, they have to analyze it, they have to feel comfortable with it, once they are ready to sign it, they have to take that decision and then come to us and then the signing takes place and then they have to go back to their respective parliaments and cabinets and get it ratified. So as of now we already have 60 within two years, it is very very fast that within two years we have already set up the ISA and we are very hopeful that once the founding conference is over we will have the assembly which will take place and the assembly will see ministers participating in it and that will encourage more countries to join.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: My suggestion is that perhaps we can take questions on the French President’s visit first and then we can move on to the next one.

Question: There are some reports that the French President has apparently said in an interview that he has no objections to the Indian government revealing the price of the Rafael aircraft to the opposition, revealing it to the public basically to the entire country, so in the light of that would this issue be discussed between the two leaders because it had created a furor in the parliament, so can you shed some light on this?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: I am not aware of this interview, perhaps you should raise this with the French Foreign Ministry.

Question: What we are getting that Maritime is going to be one of the major issues of cooperation between India and France, so can you elaborate on this that what type of cooperation we are going to have?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu:Its an area where we are actually seeing increasing convergence because of the kind of the activities, because end of the day there is a lot of trade, transport movement in that area. It is an area which we see that we perhaps could join hands and take our cooperation forward. The end result of this is perhaps, please give the visit a chance, we have a day to go and the outcome will be visible and it will be brought to the attention of all the media.

Question: The French Ambassador is on record suggesting we are looking for structured and operational cooperation in defence and security within the Ocean region that is something you said as well. Now given the fact that France has strategic depth in the Indian Ocean stretch, has India identified the strategic points that we would like to be involved not just on military play basis which France own in that region but also they have that Mozambique stretch, have we identified where we want to get in with them and also at any point, because there are reports obviously and you must be aware of it, at any point India see the participation of two more countries, a quad like formation, if you will in that area?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: Unless you feel that we enter into agreements without thinking then you shouldn’t be asking us this question. I presume we should have identified the areas and that is what I am saying, unless you feel that agreements are concluded without any thought process. You will get to see the details.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Let me just explain that this is a state visit. When you have a state visit you have certain format of the meeting and the format basically goes from topic to topic, there is an agenda which is worked out in advance and as Nagaraj mentioned that lot of these issues will come up for discussion. Specifically what topic, which subject, I think this is something which we have to wait and see. We are trying to work out and see if we can do some kind of briefing post visit which will give us more clarity about the discussions which have taken place. Question: I was wondering what is the status of the high speed railway project that France has shown interest in. I think between Delhi and Chandigarh?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: I think this conversation is happening between the two sides. I think they have done a feasibility study, right now the feasibility study report has already concluded and both sides are looking at it. Feasibility studies are usually followed up by technical discussion etc. it is a very technical document and MEA is not privy to this. Maybe this is better answered by railway board, railway ministry but what we understand is that they are in conversation with each other.

Question: During the last meeting with a different French President and Prime Minister, this 36 Rafael issue came up and it got sorted out. Now the French have been repeatedly speaking for repeat order not only on the Rafael but also on the Scorpene, now can you tell us how India feels about this because what the French have offered is already known, where does India stand?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: See, this particular area is not an area where MEA really has a role to play. This is far better addressed by the Ministry of Defence because end of the day MEA doesn’t get into this area of activity but definitely what we understand is that there are these negotiations and talks which usually happen but I am not aware of whether anything new is going to be announced because the talks have not yet started but considering that we are strategic partners, as I told earlier during the briefing, a range of issues will be touched upon.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:
Just let me add to this, I am sure you all must have seen a press release by the Ministry of Defence on the February 7 and it is a very detailed press statement running into two pages and this is regarding information relating to inter-governmental agreement on Rafael.

I think at this stage, before the visit is about to start for us to comment more than this will be difficult. Maybe after the visit we may have something more on this but at this stage, as Nagaraj mentioned, this is something which is being discussed at different levels. We will wait and see as to how things progress but this 7 February press release is a very detailed press release which gives the Ministry of Defence version about the inter-governmental agreement on Rafael.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: What I am trying to tell you that this is the last statement which was issued by Ministry of Defence.

Question: You referred to the 7 February statement by the Ministry of Defence which mentions about the inter-governmental agreement and it refers about a clause that no aircraft will be sold to India which has a higher price to the aircraft sold to any other country. Today the principal opposition party has raised the question about and quoting the Dassault Aviation annual report that Qatar and Egypt got their aircrafts lesser than the price in which India bought them. So what you have to say and are you going to take up this issue with the French government because they have put out in the public domain?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: I would still mention that these technicalities and pricing related matters does not falls under MEA’s purview. You really need to raise this issue with the Ministry of Defence who actually conduct these negotiations. You will not get an answer from any of us on this question. I think the appropriate platform is Ministry of Defence and you should approach them for greater clarification on the subject.

Question: Could you please clarify, 1000 companies already invested $7 billion or $17 billion?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: It is $7 billion. Not necessarily every company is a big company. The advantage of France is that a lot of French companies are MSMEs. Actually you know the MSMEs are the largest employers also, so value addition something what India needs today and small French companies come in very niche areas of the economy which can really contribute to the value addition portion of manufacturing.

Question Contd.: Does it includes FDA?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu:See, the French Development Agency i.e. AFD, it is like a multilateral bank, it is a developmental bank. They look at very specific areas of operation, areas of their interest, maybe urban connectivity, green projects. So these banks always look at development oriented agendas. Most countries have such developmental banks and they have certain objectives. Objectives could be how do you reduce urban congestion, what kind of technologies could be used, how do you provide maybe India is looking at smart cities, so how do you provide energy more efficiently. So there are certain specific areas where developmental banks concentrate, so AFD is focusing on developmental agenda.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: We will move to the questions on ISA now.

Question: Apart from the solar alliance what are the bilateral technology transfer we are looking at between India and France considering the fact that the French are much more reliant on nuclear energy when it comes to clean energy than solar energy and also some questions are being raised about the fact that it is the only rich and developed nations to actually back the ISA so it sort of loses some muscle because of that.

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: I didn’t get the last bit of your question.

Question Contd.: The French are essentially one of the rich and developed nation to back the International Solar Alliance. There are many other countries which are not on board yet, so how does that effect the Solar Alliance?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: Basically I don’t know if you looked at the profile of the 121 countries. If you look at the profile of the 121 countries it falls in the tropical belt where the sun intensity is at the maximum and it mostly happens to be poor countries. So why there aren’t any rich countries is a very odd question.

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: Funding is an issue but that is what ISA is planning to make a difference. ISA is planning to get all the multilateral developmental banks to support the cause of the ISA. Increasingly ISA is appealing to these developmental banks, if they could set aside a particular percentage of their loan portfolio to fund renewable energy projects worldwide.

Multilateral developmental banks today are increasingly looking at giving green credit, so it matches with what ISA is planning to do. Imagine if all the multilateral development banks of the world are able to set aside 15 percent of their overall loan portfolios for green agenda, it is going to be transformational. So I don’t think you should assume only just because of the one or two rich countries India is saying so it is difficult for ISA to sustain itself. Big ideas need funding but today the world is ready for such an idea.

So I think we are all confident that the ISA will be able to sustain itself and will be an organization that will be relevant. 60 countries have joined, more will join. End of the day ISA is not wanting to be a bank, its not a banking institution, ISA will be a facilitator of both perhaps technology, financing, capacity building, training etc. How do they do it, now is the time the interim secretariat which is there is working some of the broad agenda items.

Question Contd.: What about the bilateral technology transfer between India and France?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu: See even as we speak there are lot of technology partnership that we have in place. I am not aware of the quantum of the tech transfer but it is actually happening or you wouldn’t have had a thousand companies presence in this country if either France doesn’t see value in partnering with India or we don’t see value in partnering with France. This is already happening.

Question: What is the logic of ISA not having a membership fee, and there are countries that are not between the tropic of cancer and tropic of Capricorn but apparently they have tapped well on solar energy, countries like Italy, Mongolia etc. How do they come on board that have shown interest in joining the ISA?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu:Earlier when the ISA was being thought through the general idea was that why don’t we get all countries together which enjoy sunlight for about 300 days. So a little study was done and they found 121 countries but it is not that countries beyond these 121 don’t get sunlight or are not keen to join the ISA. I would just like to inform you that the last steering committee meeting of the ISA that took place in Delhi which was 6th hearing committee meeting, decided that going forward we will open it up and invite all countries that are keen to join the ISA to become the member of the ISA.

This decision has already been taken. Once the assembly is set up and first meeting takes place I am sure that more countries would be formally invited into the ISA, so we will be going beyond the 121. Regarding the membership fee, you see the point is ISA is planning to be a 21st century organization, a very lean organization and an organization of ideas. At the same time if you put a membership fee again you are creating a club, the idea is to get everybody is in. When your vision is so big why do you want to restrict it with a membership fee? That is the idea.

Question: One of the issues that has come in whole formation of ISA that who will do the manufacturing because India is not a big manufacturing center, so there is an apprehension that are you providing China a platform by creating an ISA and creating willingness among the poor countries and then manufacturing will come from China, so how will India gain out of ISA?

Jt. Secretary (Europe West), Shri K Nagaraj Naidu:See this idea originated in India, Prime Minister championed it. How do we gain out of it is that we want the world to gain out it, we don’t see a very personalized gain through the ISA. That is looking at the ISA very narrowly. It is an international organization and we are looking at a broader clause of climate change, how do you tackle it? If you look at the ISA purely from what is in it for my business, then I think you are narrowing down a very large concept.

This should actually offer ideas to young entrepreneurs in India to look at ISA and look how best they can support it. Maybe through manufacturing, so this is an opportunity, you got to build on such a platform. The platform is there, it is visionary in its overall approach. Now it is for the Indian industry, if it feels, why not look, it offers not just an Indian market but 121 countries and even beyond. So now is the time for the industry to recognize that look why not, this is a great platform so how do we make use of this opportunity to perhaps strengthen manufacturing in the solar sector. So I think our approach to the whole issue must be very different.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I don’t see any other question. Thank you Nagaraj for briefing the media on the visit of the President of France to India and also taking questions on the ISA. Thank you for the patience. Thank you all.



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