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Transcript of Special Briefing by Secretary (ER) On Vice President’s Visit to Gabon (May 31, 2022)

June 01, 2022

Ms.Navya Singla, Under Secretary (DD):Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us for this special briefing on the visit of the Honourable Vice President of India to three countries Gabon, Senegal and Qatar. We are currently in Libreville, Gabon. We've had a series of conversations today in the first half of the day. I have on the dais with me, Secretary (ER)Shri Dammu Ravi, who will give a sense to all of you on the conversations from today. We also have with us Joint Secretary (Central and West Africa),SevalaNaik sir, and Ambassador Ram Karan Verma, who will basically also add on to the conversations here. Over to you, sir, for some opening remarks. Thereafter, we can take questions.

Shri Dammu Ravi, Secretary (ER): Well, good afternoon to all of you. Just to give a brief overview of Honourable Vice President's visit to the first leg of his tour, which is Gabon, and today, Honourable Vice President had very extensive interaction with the leadership of Gabon. He called on the President of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, who had visited India in the past on two occasions. President warmly welcomed Honourable Vice President to his country, which is afirst high level visit from India to Gabon, which is actually in line with the Prime Minister's broad vision for Africa, which is prioritizing Africa for India. So, it is in that context, this visits to both Gabon and Senegal are taking place.Today's interaction were extremely stimulating, covering various areas for cooperation. Gabon is truly looking for enhancing partnership with India, want to partner India to be able to drive the emergent Gabon, the vision of President 2025, wherein they feel that it's time for them to diversify their economy and need partners like India, particularly in the energy sector, they have a large oil, gas, minerals, forest wealth, and they want to move beyond in the direction of value addition here. So there, they see a great opportunity for two countries to enhance this partnership.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister of Gabon called on Honourable Vice President, and there was a visit by Honourable Vice President to the National Assembly, where he met with the President of the National Assembly and also President of Senate, and thereafter, one-on-one meeting that they did with the Prime Minister of Gabon. And then the delegation level talks wherein two MOUs were signed. The one MOU is for cooperation between the Sushma Swarat Institute of Foreign Services and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Gabon, for training of diplomats in India. The second agreement is for establishment of Joint Commission between the two countries. Joint Commission mechanisms are generally set up to review bilateral relations and take stock of the things and then take new measures to enhance relationship.That is broadly about the interactions today. And then there was a banquet lunch hosted by the Prime Minister for theHonourable Vice President and the delegation, in which the Cabinet colleagues of the Prime Minister also participated.

Now, if I have to go into details of what happened and I will touch upon essentially on few items that are very important in our relationship, of course, this is the year also when India and Gabon are holding non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council, where issues of importance in multilateral level were covered. So, there was interest to work together on climate change, terrorism and also the reform of the UN Security Council and the UN reform in general. So, that was the idea that was discussed in terms of the multilateral cooperation.In terms of economic partnership, both sides felt that this is the time for working out win-win partnerships. Gabon has a lot of natural resources, but it needs partners. So, India and Gabon can work towards doing a mutually beneficial value addition in Gabon taking advantage of their own natural resources for both sides value addition here, and Indian economic partnerships can be welcomed. And also, the President himself has said he welcomes Indians to come to this country to be able to participate in agriculture production, to be able to do manufacturing, they have special economic zones, and they have created these zones in order to encourage entrepreneurship from countries like India to come and set up manufacturing bases. So, the President was very clear that he wants Indians to come here and do these activities. Another area of interest is in the training.Gabon is interested in in skill development as the part of the emergent Gabon, they need to also look at how India is able to enhance the capacity building here in this country, and these are the ideas we will be discussing. Solar Alliance, Gabon is a founding member. So they feel that in the energy sector, India can set up certain solar energy plants here and to be able to do renewable energy because again, both sides have deep interest in climate change, producing green energy.

So, this is about Vice President interaction with the President. As far as the National Assembly is concerned, of course, both sides reiterated the commitment to democracy and the fact that India is a large democracy, where Honourable Vice President also being the Chairman of the Upper House, who carries with him that kind of weight,750 members of the parliament and representing 1.4 billion is a very, very huge image. And for Gabon, countries like both are democratic countries with principles and values being upheld. They believe that it's important to have exchanges more often of this nature. And also set up parliamentary visits, friendship groups, these were all discussed. And Honourable Vice President presented two copies of the original Constitution of India to both the President of the National Assembly and the President of Senate. And if I have to touch about the Honourable Vice President meeting with the Prime Minister, of course, these were delegation level talks, so many of the items were discussed in detail, including the energy cooperation and how India can be an enduring partner in energy, already some of our few Indian companies are present here, but there is greater scope, because this is still a virgin area, and they feel that India can become an enduring partner in the energy exploration, oil and gas.

So, again, as I mentioned to you, various areas, which is the mining, agriculture, medicine, pharma, value addition here, accelerate economic transformation of Gabon, I think that is what come out very clearly, India can be an effective partner in that acceleration of economic partnership. It is not anymore looking at a long-term vision, but they want to expedite which is why the emergent Gabon vision is 2025. So, President of Gabon himself is driving that vision. And then there was talk about various sectors. There was a presentation made by their experts on the development cooperation and sectors where India can come in. So we went through that very carefully, I think in the afternoon business-to-business interaction, some of these areas will be touched. So, this is briefly what I have to tell you. And if you have any questions my colleagues can also answer. Thank you.

Ms.Navya Singla, Under Secretary (DD): Thank you so much sir. That has indeed given us a brief overview of how successful the conversations were. I'll open the floor to questions now. Just for record, please introduce yourself and your agency.

Speaker 1: Question (inaudible)

Shri Dammu Ravi, Secretary (ER): Already Indian companies are present here, but the number is not much.It is about 54, 55. I think accurate number Ambassador will correct on that, but the oil companies are also present, but they're in the exploration arena.If you see our trade in about five years’ time, it is actually more than doubled. We were about 440 million in 17, 18. And now, in 2021, it's 1.12 billion are of course, overwhelmingly in favour of Gabon, because of the oil imports by India, because they should also see that security point of view, Gabon can be a very interesting partner for us, as I said, this area is still not fully tapped, the potential is enormous. So, for exploration of oil and gas, that is huge scope.What the President has said in the morning was, you know, they have huge natural resources, particularly manganese, which is again very important natural resource for industry in a growing economy like ours, this is a natural resource, which is useful for us.He talked about forest area in our where we can use the wood. And already I think there is some of the Indian companies are setting up in the furniture industry and there, there is also making of the furniture and also the skilling is going on. And we have to see when we visit the SEZ tomorrow, we want to see actually how that works, and how we can help those companies to enhance that potential. So, agriculture is clearly one area where the Prime Minister and the President have said that they have huge land here, the population is small at 2.3 million only. So they want more Indians to come. We have agriculture expertise, and India has certain talent solutions for food production. So whether suitable to this terrain, and this area and climatic zones, whether we can come in to bring in our expertise to produce agriculture, grain food grains, and not only for Gabon, but also to be able to export outside, this is what President himself has said in the morning. So, I see there is a huge potential there. And similarly, Prime Minister has mentioned about pharmaceuticals.So we are traditionally sending pharmaceuticals from India to here and in large numbers. But whether value addition can actually take place is what they're interested in. So when we go back, we will have to talk with our industry, I think in the evening in business interaction will give us some sense and some ideas as to how we can fructify these initiatives of the vision of the President and to take forward from there. So basically, I feel there is scope we will have to work with the industry to make this happen.

Shri Sushil: Sir, my name is Sushil. I’m from ANI. How do you see the cultural relationship between countries?

Shri Dammu Ravi, Secretary (ER): Well, first of all, there is diversity on both sides. I think that is what is the strength of both the countries here and it's a Francophone country and India, we are largely English speaking. And both countries have preserved the diversity,they believe in the tradition of preserving diversity and respecting that tradition. So in terms of cultural engagement, we haven't had that much of interaction but maybe Ambassador or JS can throw some light if you have any. Has there been any interaction in the cultural arena?

Shri Ram Kumar Verma, Ambassador : There have not been much interactions between our two countries in cultural arena. And that could be mainly because till 10 years before there were only handful of Indians here and the country is very small, as Secretary sir has added, that it is a Francophone country. So of course, and being a small country, they are more oriented towards Europe, France and other French-speaking countries than English-speaking country, but since Gabon has already applied for Commonwealth membership so we hope that now their orientation will go towards us also as a member of Commonwealth.

Shri Sevala NaikMude, Joint Secretary (Central and West Africa): On culture aspect, I'm not really sure that how much I can contribute, but there are several ethnic groups in the country over 20, 25 and they are all small, small numbers and the one major ethnic group is Fang so there's about 35% represents but they have different cultures like in India we have a diverse culture, they also have a similar so it matches to some extent. And when Indians are living here slowly moving into I think promoting interaction between the two countries cultures, I think we have to take forward this the basic concept. Thank you.

Ms.Deepali: Sir, I am Deepali from Sansad Television. So India imports a lot of phosphate from other countries for fertilizers. So, do we have any plans to increase imports from Gabon?

Shri Dammu Ravi, Secretary (ER): Team had come according to Joint Secretary but I'm not sure if their mines are there or not. But I think it's worth exploring because this is a virgin area, not many have come here to explore that.Manganese is definitely there,that geologists have given those reports. But in the case of West Africa, there's a lot of potential for phosphate. That's what, you know, Morocco Senegal you know, Senegal again the huge potential for us. So, when Honourable Vice President visits that country tomorrow, this will be one area which will come up for discussion. And again, we have to see this in the long term interests of our own requirement, we would be needing, a growing agriculture economy like ours, we would be needing huge quantities of phosphate, urea and ammonia wherever it may be available. So especially so in today's time when the global supply chains of fertilizers have been disrupted. So in the crisis in Ukraine is now actually giving us that kind of determination to go ahead and look for wherever the sourcing is possible. So we will be looking at that option very closely.

Speaker 2: Sir, I’m from Sansad TV. Sir, Vice President is going to address Indian diaspora here. So what do you think, how it will impact Indians who are here in Gabon?

Shri Dammu Ravi, Secretary (ER): I think, you know, Honourable Vice President’s visit is the first by Vice President also at that level, a high level visit by India ever. So that itself is, provides impetus to relationship, there's no doubt about that. And Indians coming here, it's been small numbers.It was only in the recent times; they have moved into this part of the world looking at opportunities at that time when Gabon has welcomed outsiders to come to this country to become part of their economic growth. So Indians have come in this time. So when they're so far away from India and this remote region in terms of distance, from our point of view, this opening of the relationship with Gabon, India, between our two countries is a great personal push. And I think it's also an emotional connect many Indians live here see a Vice President yesterday we have seen how many of them were actually welcoming, Honourable Vice President as he was entering the hotel. So there's that emotional connect with the country and when he is a symbol, you know, he becomes suddenly a symbol of that emotional connect. So they are very enthusiastic to see Honourable Vice President and Indian delegation. I'm sure you know, in the days to come, more visits of this nature, both at the ministerial level, at the official level, will deepen that emotional bond and give them a lot of strength. So I think in the evening program, that assurance when Honourable Vice President addresses the Indian community, they will be reassured that India is with them. Thank you.

Ms.Navya Singla, Under Secretary (DD): Thank you sir. That was very helpful. I hope we continue to see our friends from the media and they continue to seek clarifications, questions anything that you all have we're always here. Stay tuned for updates as the visit progresses we'll keep sending you information. We hope to see you soon. Thank you.

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