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Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (ER) in Doha on Prime Minister's visit to Qatar (June 5, 2016)

June 07, 2016

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vikas Swarup): Good afternoon friends and welcome to this press briefing on Prime Minister’s ongoing visit to Qatar. As you all know, Prime Minister arrived last evening from Herat where he has gone to inaugurate the Afghan-India Friendship Dam and he met President Ashraf Ghani. From there he flew straight to Doha. Last evening, Prime Minister visited a workers camp. He interacted with the workers; he saw the medical facilities that are being provided to them, the kind of treatment facilities that are available to them.

This morning of course he started the day with a meeting with business leaders. After that, we went to the Emiri Diwan where he had a very fruitful meeting with His Highness the Emir of Qatar. Seven agreements have been signed. His last engagement there was a meeting with the Father Emir which was also a very constructive, very positive meeting. It was a rare gesture for the Father Emir. Just before we leave Qatar, Prime Minister will be having the final meeting with members of the Indian community at a reception hosted by our Ambassador.

To brief you on this extremely important visit, I have with me Secretary (ER) Shri Amar Sinha, our Ambassador to Doha Shri Sanjiv Arora, and our Joint Secretary (Gulf) Shri Mridul Kumar. Secretary (ER) will give you a broad overview of the Prime Minister’s visit including details of the agreements that were signed. After that, he is available to take a few questions. Please note that we do have to leave for the next engagement of the Prime Minister. So, we will have to keep it a bit short. With that, I give the floor to Secretary (ER).

Secretary (ER) (Shri Amar Sinha): Thank you Vikas, good afternoon everyone.

You already know in terms of what his engagements were. The programme actually started when soon after arrival he visited the workers at a medical camp organized for them. I think it was the 25th medical camp. This was done by the volunteers of the Indian community doctors who come and help the workers there. He addressed a group of around 500-600 workers and he chatted with them, he spoke to them. The key message the Prime Minister gave was that the name, fame or appreciation of India is very largely because of them and the contribution they make.

The message which actually came across in our meetings at various levels was that Indians not only form the largest community here but they also seem to be the preferred community in terms of their commitment to work, their ability to mix with people, they gel well. I guess in short I could say they have the most-trouble free relationship. So, they were extremely appreciative. Actually, both the Emir and the Prime Minister said that they are not only conscious that they have come here to work at certain levels, but they have actually been partners with Qatar in their own development. These are the words actually he mentioned.

Yesterday, the Qatari Prime Minister hosted a private meal at his own home for PM and the delegation. He of course had several members of his Cabinet present there. So, we had very detailed substantive discussions there. And today in the morning at the full delegation level, we met with the Emir. Then of course PM had a restricted one-on-one with him and the Qatari PM again. And then we had a series of MoUs signed, seven of them, which I would quickly run through the details.

But of the main issues that were discussed, first and foremost was the diaspora, the Indian community’s welfare. Prime Minister thanked them for taking care of them, making good arrangements for their stay here and for their security and general welfare.

Second issue of critical importance was how we could partner together in investments that go beyond this trading relationship that we have. We of course are big partners. We import a lot of LNG from Qatar. It is our largest source. But both sides felt that time has come that we need to move beyond a trading relationship and get into strategic investments. So, a lot of sectors were discussed.

The key sectors that PM said from our perspective were of course railways, agro-processing, solar energy, and also defence manufacturing and general manufacturing. These were the key sectors that he discussed besides of course opportunities in India, that we are going for the railways again, Smart Cities in terms of urban infrastructure development, in reconstruction of assets which are under distress, and to see whether we can get FDI into these sectors and revive some of these projects.

On the political front of course, there was a general expression of happiness at the level of interaction. Within 14 months this is the second high level visit. Emir had come to India in March, 2015. But both sides felt that there is a need to raise the level of annual consultation. So, in principle we have decided to form what we call a high level committee both for follow-up and review as well as charting the path forward. At what level it will be is yet to be decided and announced. But it will be at a fairly high Cabinet level, I think, from our perspective.

The Joint Statement has to be issued jointly. So, they will be releasing it I think in another 15-20 minutes. But I can give you a sense that this of course covers the entire gamut of relationship. It refocuses on security, terrorism related issues, and it will be with you very shortly. So, where we found that there is great resonance. They also realize the fact that terror does pose a threat to both of us and to our region. I say region purposely because we have always held that this is part of our extended neighbourhood and Qatar is actually the third visit in the Gulf since August last year. It was UAE, Saudi and now here. Of course, in between PM also went to Iran and Afghanistan. So, are looking at it as part of a series of outreach to the Gulf countries and the countries in this region.

In terms of MoUs that we have signed, these cover a wide range. I think Vikas has already tweeted, but to give you an idea, first there was an MoU on investments between our National Investment Infrastructure Fund and the State of Qatar. Then there is an MoU on cooperation on skill development and recognition of qualification. This was very key given that we have a large number of people who come here and there was a felt need that they should not only be skilled in India before they come but what skills they have, and now that we have a huge programme under the Ministry of Skill Development, those degrees are also recognized mutually. So, that is the intention of this.

We are also looking at it, we have discussed the idea whether they would like to specify the type of skill sets that they require and whether there is opportunity for their investment in this sector where they could actually train the people in India before they come here so that they are slightly more productive and more efficient. Then there was of course an agreement on cooperation and mutual assistance in customs matters. Then there is also an MoU in the field of health, an MoU in the field of tourism.

Talking of tourism, there is a great need and of course there will be an announcement, we discussed how to facilitate business and tourist visas and we are hoping that an announcement would be made by the Qatari Government. As you know and the Ambassador tells me that we have a fairly liberal visa regime in terms of both the duration and the number of entries, and the Qatar Government would also like to reciprocate that and they could make some announcement shortly today.

Then there is also an MoU in the field of youth and sports which is critical because of the FIFA 2022. That was also an issue of discussion because that provides both opportunities for our companies in the infrastructure and also in the softer sector, the back-end sector of hosting an event like this. So, PM discussed at length the expertise that India has gained in organizing such mega sporting events and all the relating events around it.

Then there is an MoU on sharing of financial intelligence. This is basically to keep track of money flows, to check hawala and any illegal transactions. These were the seven MOUs. In the welfare of the community, one issue that was discussed was also the status of the Indian prisoners here. We are hoping that there would be some decision and we should hear from Qatari Government very shortly.

In the morning, the Prime Minister started with the business meeting where he met a group of around 20 top investors of Qatar. Of course, PM was in a listening mode. He said that because we have known each other for a long time as countries, he wanted to get a feedback from them on what they would want India to do to help them to invest more in India. So, five or six of them gave specific suggestions. PM has promised that we will try and create a team which will help Qatari investments or handhold them from the point they enter to the point they actually get into a particular sector. So, those works we have to do back home.

His last engagement was with the Father Emir which was a courtesy call on him. PM sought his blessings and constant support so that the decisions are taken quickly and we move forward in engaging Qatar more closely.

I will stop there and take questions. Of course our Ambassador is here. On Joint Statement, I am not giving you great detail because it will be with you in the next 30 minutes or so.

Official Spokesperson: If I can just supplement to what Secretary (ER) told you, I think the one point which struck us in the Indian delegation was the warmth with which Prime Minister was greeted. Virtually every Qatari dignitary told Prime Minister that Qatar is your second home. So, I think that was really something quite special.

Today of course in the meeting with His Highness the Emir he said two things which I thought I must mention. One, he said India and Qatar should complement each other. The other thing he said was that India is closest to us and the nearest to us. Obviously, he was not meaning only geographically but also emotionally. And all the Qatari leaders the Prime Ministers met, whether it was the Prime Minister whether it was the Emir, they all praised the contribution of the Indian community to Qatar’s economic development.

I think Secretary (ER) has given you a fairly rounded picture of Prime Minister’s engagement, very far-reaching discussions that were held today. Now we are ready to take a few questions.

Secretary (ER): There is one thing I could just recall on this second home thing. One very interesting suggestion came from Qatari businesses that in the past traditionally they have had homes in India and they would want the Government of India to facilitate their buying apartments or places as their own second homes. That was something which they have suggested.

Indian Ambassador to Qatar (Shri Sanjiv Arora): I think Secretary (ER) and my colleague have given you really a very comprehensive flavour of Hon. Prime Minister’s visit.

As far as this round table interaction with 20 top investors is concerned, it is very heartening that we had representation from diverse sectors like construction, real estate, infrastructure, financial services, hospitality and a number of other sectors. That was one. And as Secretary (ER) has said, Hon. Prime Minister clearly gave the floor to them in the first instance and they greatly appreciated that there was the leader of the world’s third largest economy in purchasing power parity terms who was listening to them very carefully and attentively and taking on board their perceptions and then giving them first-hand information on the far-reaching initiatives taken by Government of India in terms of National Investment Infrastructure Fund and other major initiatives at national level.

It was I think fairly obvious that these top investors from different sectors already had a fair amount of appreciation for the several progressive changes in terms of the policies and procedures that are taking place to make India a preferred business and tourist destination.

About tourism, already it has been shared will you here. I would just supplement it slightly by saying that here at the Indian Embassy we give utmost priority to rendering consular services most efficiently and helpfully. And when it comes to visas, it is again heartening that we have seen the number of Visas issued to Qataris grow steadily and during certain periods rapidly, particularly when it is closer to Eid vacation and so on. There seems to be certainly a renewed enthusiasm and trust firstly in widening and deepening our collaboration in the tourism sector, and secondly by way of substantially augmenting the flow of individuals and families. Qatari side has given positive indications that it would also be taking steps to expedite the visa procedures for our business community.

Official Spokesperson: Okay, the floor is now open for questions.

Question: Yesterday, Prime Minister said to the workers that he was aware of the problems which they are facing right now. So, were these problems discussed at any level with the Prime Minister or with the Emir?

Secretary (ER): Basically the problems are contractual, when the contracts that they come on are not honoured here. Of course part of the problem also lies at the end of agents. So, we have to address the agents and agencies which bring these people. But the general question of their welfare, how they live, what arrangements have been made for them in terms of living that we have seen, for the internal security, these were discussed at length with them. As I mentioned right in the beginning, PM was appreciative of the steps that have already been taken. But everything can be improved. In that context I would say it was discussed.

Question: Can you give us some details on FIU MoU and also investment MoU?

Secretary (ER): The first MoU on investment between National Investment Infrastructure Fund and Qatar Investment Authority, basically establishes a framework for facilitating participation of Qatari institutional investors in infrastructure projects in India under NIIF. We have not put number on purpose because it was felt that they would come, they would send a team, they would look at various opportunities and then perhaps invest through this.

Question: Did they talk about investments into India? Was no figure discussed?

Secretary (ER): Yes. Figures can never be right. It will either be too high nor too low. So why get into figures?

Second was an MoU on mutual assistance in customs matter. Basically it is an operational agreement between the two customs both for facilitation and also for intelligence sharing to check what you call under-invoicing and over-invoicing of trade, trade related money laundering issues. So, that is a mechanism which is more a law enforcement mechanism. Then, the Financial Intelligence Unit of course keeps track of non-trade financial flows between countries and that is also very important in terms of the commitment of both sides to fight terror financing etc. That is something that we have been pursuing with all our partners.

Then of course, I told you about the skill development MOU and what the idea is. It is about skill development, entrepreneurship development. And there is a need and it is also felt in India that you have a population which needs to be skilled. As PM always says, we have to skill our people to become the work force of the world. It is not only about a particular geography, but basically you equip them with skills so that anywhere they could be in demand.

Question: I wanted to ask you whether terror financing was the backdrop of that?

Secretary (ER): It is not only terror financing. Terror financing is an important aspect, but FIU also deals with round tripping black money, all sorts of illegal transactions like hawala which can be used for various purposes. But basically it is aimed at checking that.

Question: You mentioned about some high level committee. Is it a Joint Committee or Indian Committee? Any specifics about tourism? Is it about Qatari tourist visa or Indian tourist visa?

Secretary (ER): It will be a Qatari tourism visa.

Question: What is the decision on it?

Secretary (ER): They are awaiting a decision that we would give the honour for the Qatari Government to make the first announcement. It is their decision.

Question: What is expected?

Secretary (ER): What is expected is basically how to ease tourist visas in terms of both the term of visa, in terms of the number of entries you can get, how often you can get etc. Those are things they are looking at, both for business and tourist category. Work visa of course is a separate category.

Question: The country has a common system for tourist visa. Are we expecting something special for Indians?

Secretary (ER): Correct.

On the high level committee, of course we have a Joint Commission at foreign office level, consultation at the level of Secretaries. We also in the past had a meeting which was chaired by the Minister of State. The idea is that we would not only raise the level but would also make it slightly broader in terms of its approach so that it can review all issues whether it includes oil and gas, investments, labour issues. So, it will become a multi-disciplinary, inter-ministerial sort of forum which we have with some other countries. It is a Joint Committee and it will be co-chaired by the two countries, but we do not know yet at what level.

Question: It is not new, already there is a Committee.

Secretary (ER): There is a Committee which unfortunately has not met very often. So, it is both to upgrade the level and also to ensure that it meets more regularly.

Question: I would like to know whether there is any agreement signed on LNG imports. India imports 65 per cent of the requirement from Qatar.

Secretary (ER): On LNG imports, actually the issue was that it was renegotiated and signed in December last year. So, that is I think already a done deal. So, Prime Minister of course thanked them for the understanding because we depend on them for 65 to 70 per cent of our LNG requirement from Qatar. That is a long term agreement, it was actually for 25 years. Last year what we did was we also actually increased the quantities that we were to off-take. I think a million tonnes per annum was increased from 7.5 million tonnes. Of course, on the Qatari side they have been very gracious in the negotiations in terms of bringing the price more aligned to the current global prices.

Question: Prime Minister also met the business leaders. Were there any concerns from the business leaders from Qatar as far as investment in India is concerned? Did they raise any concern as far as investing in India is concerned, maybe ease of doing business, GST or any sort of concern?

Secretary (ER): It is not specific on GST etc. but very general remarks about the procedures and if there could be a body in India which could guide them better in terms of handholding. That was the concern. The Prime Minister assured them that this is a constant endeavour and he pointed out that World Bank has improved India’s standing in ease of doing business index, and that our efforts are to further easing procedures and cutting what they call the red tape.

Was there any specific investment proposal from the Qatari side?

Secretary (ER): I said there is no specific investment proposal from the Qatar Wealth Fund, let us put it this way. But from individual investors, yes there are several. And perhaps you will hear of a few very shortly in tourism sector. A group wants to invest in Agra, then there is something which is close to being finalized in terms of FIFA infrastructure that is being negotiated that also would perhaps be public in a matter of days or weeks. So there are lot of private investments and plans to invest.

Indian Ambassador to Qatar: There have been a series of queries from the floor, especially from our colleagues in the Peninsula. I think the message the Secretary has articulated based on Prime Minister’s interaction with top investors is that there is undoubtedly a significantly enhanced level of interest, appreciation of the several progressive and far-reaching initiatives that have been taken and at the same time feedback in terms of how they proceed. Also I think there are clear indications that the quantum of investment from Qatar into India would be growing in the months and years ahead.

With regard to specific contracts, projects under consideration and negotiations going on, while the Secretary has given you some very very important indication, but I think it would not be fair to the private parties involved for us to use this platform to declare what is in the works and about which some information may have been shared with us really as privileged communication. But certainly there are some very major proposals in the works and you would hear from the parties concerned in the near future.

The gentleman from Peninsula also made a statement that Qatar has a uniform policy on visas. That is not correct. I think the spectrum is quite wide. There are countries that are totally exempted from the visa regime and on the other hand there are different procedures as is the case with most countries. I also want this to be clear that we are talking essentially of a more expeditious mechanism, possibly more liberal mechanism essentially for business and tourist visas. That is something I thought I will just flag. Thank you.

Secretary (ER): This is basically what he wanted, whether it is an exception for India. Of course, there are two categories. Countries which do not have a visa regime and there are countries which have a visa regime. Within that category, yes they are making exception for India and trying to utilize that.

Question: May I know the details of the sports and youth programme? We have already signed an MoU.

Indian Ambassador to Qatar: You are aware that there is an existing MoU on sports and youth and in order to streamline that existing MoU and make it functional, we have now signed an executive programme for three years which will entail various activities in sports and youth affairs. So, this is not an MoU in that sense but it is a programme coming out of the existing MoU.

Secretary (ER): It is like an action plan, like we have the cultural exchange programmes where you have specific items of action.

Question: Last year, the exports were around USD 15.5 billion out of which Indian exports account for nearly USD one billion. Are there any steps taken to see that not probably equal but at least raise it from the Indian side that they import more goods and services?

Indian Ambassador to Qatar: First of all, in the bilateral trade exchange figure itself there was some decline over the previous year due to the unprecedented drop oil prices and considering that bulk of the export from Qatar is LNG and petrochemicals etc. You are right that the export from our side is to the tune of USD one billion. If you look at the export basket, actually it has diversified over the years. You have automobiles, auto components, you have information technology, you have machinery, you even have capital goods, you have food products though you also have other traditional commodities like garments, textiles and what not. So, the export market has diversified. And there is a renewed effort on the part of Indian companies and also on the part of Indian Government to substantially increase our exports in other areas and also increase the volume in the existing areas.

I will now make it more specific. You look at a major exhibition here called Project Qatar. There was a time when there was hardly any participation from India in that. In 2013 we had 35 Indian companies. This is in construction sector, this is a global exhibition on construction, building materials. It is very vital because all the construction for the FIFA 2022 is taking place. In 2014, we had more than 40 companies. In 2015 we had nearly 60 companies. And this year again we have more than 50 companies participating.

Likewise, we have had successive business missions from the Confederation of Indian Industries, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries, other apex bodies, the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, other major trade and investment seminars and conferences taking places in India. We had good participation. So, I think the net result of all this could be an enhancement in our exports in the coming years.

Secretary (ER): And of course these figures do not capture the services exports and imports which could be an important component as we approach FIFA 2022. A large number of contracts our companies have are engineering contracts. But at the macro level, the nature of the trade basket is such that even suppose India’s exports were zero, would you live without the LNG? You will still have an import bill of USD 15 billion or USD 5 billion because that is something that you do not have and you need it whether it is from Qatar or somewhere else. So, you cannot really balance every bilateral trade budget. You will have to look at the overall picture.

Official Spokesperson:
I think we will have to end it there.

In conclusion I will just say that we do expect that as a result of the Prime Minister’s visit to Qatar and the very wide ranging discussions that he held with the Qatari leadership ranging from the Prime Minister, to the Emir, to the Father Emir, we do expect the Indo-Qatar relations to scale new heights. Prime Minister emphasized in various meetings that actually India and Qatar are natural partners. India has the demand and the manpower, Qatar has the financial and natural resources. So, actually the two can be a very good fit for each other and we do expect that the natural synergies which were discussed in the meetings today would come to fruition in the months and years to come.

With that, this press briefing comes to a close. Thank you all.


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