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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary on upcoming visit of PM to Argentina for G20

November 27, 2018

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Good afternoon friends and welcome to this special briefing on Prime Minister’s visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina for the G20 summit. Prime Minister will depart tomorrow evening around 6 O’ Clock and he comes back to India late evening on December 2.

There are several engagements which he has in Argentina and to take us through the entire summit and also the meetings etc. which Prime Minister is going to have and different engagements, I have with me Foreign Secretary of India who will brief you all on Prime Minister’s visit for the G20 Summit. Over to Foreign Secretary now.

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: Thank you Raveesh. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I am going to brief you on the forthcoming G20 Summit in Buenos Aires. Ideally I would have liked to have my colleague from Department of Economic Affairs but they are away in Buenos Aires because a number of senior officials meetings are taking place so I have to do this briefing on my own.

This is a very short visit, in and out he will be on the ground for just 48 hrs in Buenos Aires and therefore in those 48 hrs there will be the multilateral meetings, the sessions of the G20 as well as the usual practice in international conferences and gatherings bilateral meetings on the margins of the summit.

Before I come to the specifics of the Summit and the program, I just want to dwell briefly on the significance of this particular G20 meeting. This is the 10th year, you all recall that G20 had the first meeting in 2008 during the financial crisis and the principle goal at that time was to deal with the financial crisis at that time. Since then of course the G20 has evolved into a much larger agenda of reforms in the international economic system, in the taxation system, issues relating to climate change, energy transition global economic policy and trade policy are also discussed by leaders in this meeting. So at the 10th anniversary of the G20 it is certainly our expectations that the leaders will also reflect at what has been achieved in the past 10 years and what we can look forward to in the next 10 years.

The backdrop of G20, I think, is very evident to all of you. There has been significant changes and uncertainty in the world. A number of established multilateral institutions and processes are being discussed and in some reform or changes being called for. Our view is that G20 should not become a one issue meeting. I am referring, of course, to the fact that there are differences in the manner in which international trade should be conducted, rules for international trade should be framed, whether reform is needed in multilateral trading institutions and by all means our Prime Minister looks forward to discussing all these and sharing our views on them but our view is that G20 goes beyond a single issue and must actually cover the entire gamut of economic issues including agriculture sector reforms, including the transition in energy, including the challenges that climate change poses, the healthcare problem that world faces and so on. I think this is the frame of mind or terms of reference on which certainly the delegation from India led by Prime Minister will be participating.

As I said he will be on the ground for just 48 hrs and G20 itself consists of the Leader’s Retreat and the three main sessions. The theme is ‘Building Consensus for a Fair and Sustainable Development.’That is the theme that has been chosen by the host i.e. Argentina, they have the privilege to select the theme and there are three sessions. The first is ‘Putting People First’ and that is essentially on the global economy, on the economic outlook or the future of work. The second session talks of Building Consensus, a topic of importance at this time certainly, and this will deal with international trade, finance, taxation, sustainable development and climate change. And the third session is called ‘Embracing Opportunities’ and these are related to energy, infrastructure, sustainable food security and so on.

The Prime Minister will be making a lead intervention in the first session that is the session titled ‘Putting People First.’ In addition, of course, he will be making subsidiary interventions i.e. not as lead speaker but as a leader who wishes to comment after the lead speakers have spoken in the other two sessions as well which is ‘Building Consensus’ and ‘Enhancing Opportunities.’ Of course in Leader’s Retreat all leaders are free to say whatever they wish and there is no specific agenda for that purpose.

Some of the points that we expect to highlight is something I would like to go over. Certainly the challenges we intend to highlight at the G20 include risks posed by oil price volatility, this is something which has directly impacted the Indian economy. It is something which affects the lives of people and it is incumbent that the leaders of 20 largest economy to reflect upon both the price of oil and its availability in the market. So this is one thing on which Prime Minister will speak. I might remind all of you that since the interventions are also fairly short as a number of world leaders are speaking, so the interventions will be in a very condensed form.

One of the other topics that Prime Minister will dwell on is the Digital Revolution and in particular how it leads to new opportunities and new forms of employment. This is a topic which fits in the government programs of Digital India and Skill India and this is something which, I think, is globally relevant at this time when we looking at changes in manner of global economies and of the new employment opportunities.

The Conference’s first session where Prime Minister is one of the lead speakers will also be talking about the future work and with the special focus here on women’s empowerment and this is again something which Prime Minister will touch on. Obviously he will highlight flagship programs that his government has undertaken, the Jan DhanYojana, the Aadhaar Scheme, the GST, the Start Ups and the Mudra Yojana as ways of financial inclusion and efforts to reach out to the lowest rungs of the society and economy. Then, of course, I presume the G20 will discuss reforms of multilateral trading institutions in particular the WTO, this is an issue which a number of countries are expected to bring up and in that context the government of India’s view is that we need to, multilateralism is essential, rules based multilateral international order is essential but we are prepared to look at reforms in that. And the phrase the Prime Minister has used in the BRICS Summit, is what the Prime Minister will develop on and that is Reformed Multilateralism, in other words we cannot replace a rules based, agreed multilateral order with unilateral actions but we can certainly look at reform of systems in the light of the new situation.

In the context of commitments to the Paris Agreement and climate change, the Prime Minister of course will highlight the International Solar Alliance and his own vision of One World One Sun One Grid, this is the vision that Prime Minister has outlined. As you know at the General Assembly meeting which was held at October, the ISA agreed that it would be expanded to include all countries not just those who are between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. So certainly at the G20 Prime Minister will make the pitch for other countries which are not between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn to join the International Solar Alliance.

Prime Minister also, in Hamburg, had flagged an important space which we believe is yet to be filled by anybody and this is disaster resilient infrastructure. Prime Minister have been of the view that each time a natural disaster occurs anywhere in the world, countries scramble to give immediate relief but don’t really rebuild the infrastructure back to a state where it is resilient next time a disaster occurs. There are, of course, United Nations agencies who are doing this work but Prime Minister feels that there is space for major countries, particularly the G20 countries, to have some kind of an informal arrangement where we can share capacity building, where can share technical know-how and share experiences immediately after a country faces a disaster which leads to significant infrastructure erosion or development and where the immediate relief has been provided subsequently.

So government of India has circulated a concept paper to all G20 countries on this subject and we have got very positive feedback and I think Prime Minister will elaborate the next steps of taking this forward. So these are some of the areas on which Prime Minister will focus. Obviously I do also want to mention that combating terror financing and money laundering again is an important issue that we will be focusing on.

In addition to these meetings and these meetings continue for a large part of the 30th as well as for the forenoon of the 1st December and Prime Minister leaves immediately after the summit concludes but in the margins, given the paucity of time, we are trying to schedule as many meetings or pull-asides as we can. Obviously schedules of all the G20 members are tight so we are trying to figure meetings and its work in progress. What I can share with you at the moment there is always in the G20 meeting between the BRICS heads of state and government, that meeting is confirmed.

I will not share timings with you today because I believe will be a daily read out of the meetings which will take place. He will also be meeting the Secretary General of the United Nations. The Secretary General of United Nations Mr. Gutteres has asked for a meeting with him and he will be meeting the Secretary General of the United Nations. It is courtesy to meet the President of the host country so there will be a meeting with the President of Argentina. There is a meeting with the new President of Chile and this will be the fourth time, I believe, that Prime Minister will meet President Xi Jinping of China. This was decided at the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg that there would be regular meetings and so both countries were quite happy to accommodate this meeting in their schedules.

There will be meetings with the Prime Ministers of Spain, of Jamaica and Jamaica is not only in the bilateral capacity but as the Head of the CARICOM, the Caribbean community of countries. With the Netherlands, with the Chancellor of Germany and as of now possibly with the President of France, that is still being worked out. But one of the other meetings confirmed is the joint meeting with the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council.

As you know this year we were to have an Indo-EU Summit meeting but for scheduling purposes that could not be held so this meeting is deemed important and also given the changes that are taking place in the European Union. So as of know these are the meetings which have been finalized.

We are still in the process of finalizing some meetings so if there is any further news tomorrow or on Thursday, Spokesperson will be talking about it. In any case we will be giving detailed briefings after all the major meetings from Buenos Aires.

Ladies & gentlemen, this is as much as I can share with you at the moment on the G20 Summit.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:
Thank you sir. Questions only on G20.

Question: Is any bilateral planned with the US President?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:
We are working on various bilateral meetings. At this stage I am only indicating those where the schedules of both have been synchronized.

Question: Following up question to the previous one, the fact is that Prime Minister actually hasn’t met with President Trump since last June and they have not even had a conversation that have been reported to us since February this year. Is there any particular reason why sort of or still a confirmation late maybe despite the opportunity being. In terms of US-China trade war which is ongoing currently, there is a lot of buzz that there could be some sort of agreement announced between the two, while it is a bilateral issue, what is India’s position really or how is India looking at developments on that front?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale
:I said what I had to, on the bilateral meetings, so I won’t comment further. We have also seen reports that the United States and China are discussing some kind of trade deal, to use the word that the United States uses, we are not aware of the facts in this matter.

As I said one of the issues that will be discussed is the WTO and how it should be strengthened, what the reforms are, our interest in it is two-fold. First is that the G20 is not hijacked by the single issue of trade, whether it is between two countries or otherwise. Secondly, how we can constructively reform the WTO in a manner that serves India’s interests and which is multilateral and that is going to be one of the focal points of this G20 meeting or certainly of India’s position at the G20 meetings.

Question: Issues like protectionism and unilateral economic sanctions are also creating disruptions in world economy, regional economies. So does India has concerns relating to this and Prime Minister will be raising these issues in his interventions?

Question: What exactly is reform of international financial institutions economic architecture has been an abiding theme of G20, what has been the progress and what will be PM’s pitch this time around especially on issues such as tax evasion, base erosion and profit sharing and all that, has there been any progress, what is our view on that?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:
Thank you. As far as what you said that is going to be a major theme of this G20 and the government of India’s view is that we look at this issue in a constructive manner. Pointing fingers may not necessarily achieve what we wish to achieve which is a WTO in which our interests are protected and in which there is a rules based order. So while we are concerned about the manner in which there is certain amount of unilateralism, our focus is going to be on the key phrase that Prime Minister has used and continue to use, which is a reformed multilateralism. If the current multilateralism system has any lacunae and if there issues that needs to be addressed, let us work together as the G20 to reform that but we need to keep a multilateral system in place. That I think is the basic approach that Prime Minister and his delegation at the G20.

On the financial issues, quite honestly I would rather than my colleague who is the Secretary, Economic Affairs would have commented on this because he is far more familiar on these issues. Certainly in G20 on the taxation side substantial progress has been made, substantial achievements have been made. I am not able to indicate as to whether any specific proposals are going to be made on the financial side but certainly this is an area of our interest and we will continue to follow that.

Question Contd.:
on black money and corruption.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:We will have a briefing from Argentina and perhaps some of the questions which you have raised might be answered there.

Question: You said a BRICS Head of State meeting and another with President Xi Jinping. So basically there are two separate meetings, right?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:Yes, there are two separate meetings. BRICS is with all five Heads of State and Government and then there is a separate bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping.

Question: In that bilateral meeting with Xi Jinping, what is on the agenda, what are the issues that India will bring up and what do we expect the Chinese to bring up?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:I think the whole purpose of these meetings is to build a certain mutual trust and understanding in the relationship and it was decided during the meeting in Wuhan that they would take the opportunity wherever and whenever they could meet to have meetings and to discuss issues of that are in either leader’s mind which are of mutual concern.

So at this stage I will not go into the issues that they will discuss but I think it is important to note that this will be the fourth meeting that the two leaders will have had in a space of perhaps seven or eight months. And I think that in itself is indicative of the kind of political level exchanges and contacts that we have between China and India post Wuhan.

You said that India’s position at G20 would be that while the lacunae in the present multilateral system should be addressed, it should not be replaced by unilateralism. But at present we see at WTO that the US has been stalling the process by stopping election of judges at the dispute settlement body and this is a big concern where a lot of countries have gotten together including India, EU and a lot of others as well. So will this issue be taken up by India or will we let others do the talking and join them?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:My understanding is that this issue is in second session where the Prime Minister doesn’t has the lead intervention. Prime Minister has the lead intervention in the first session, so we presume there are other leaders who might speak to the issue of international trade and finance but Prime Minister is likely to intervene on this subject, yes.

Who would be Sherpa for the Prime Minister in the G20 and secondly you mentioned that he would be flagging issues of Jan Dhan, GST, Mudra Yojana, would he also be talking about his massive economic reform which was demonetization?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:
The Sherpa is Shri Shaktikanta Das who is former Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs and perhaps he was also the Finance Secretary, so he has been the Sherpa and he had Sherpa’d through this entire G20 process.

I have already listed out the topics that the Prime Minister is going to flag. I did miss out a couple of important things that PM will also flag, one is his scheme of Ayushman Bharat which is a substantial scheme on healthcare. This is one of the important issues actually going to be discussed at the G20. The other important thing that he will flag also is in terms of agriculture sector like the soil health card and initiatives to improve the productivity. Beyond that I am not at liberty to comment on what are the topics he may wish to speak or not. I am sure you will learn of it after he has spoken.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:
The last two questions.

Question: What is on the agenda in the bilateral with the French President and the Prime Minister, is there any plan to review the IG on the fighter planes?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale:
No. I am not at liberty at this stage to disclose what the agenda is of any of the bilateral meetings. We will do a briefing as soon as the meetings are done.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Normally we do a briefing after the bilateral meeting has taken place. We will stick to that schedule, once the meeting takes place we will brief you.

Question: I was just wondering if there any plans to meet Mohammad Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, or is there any ongoing talks or there is a possible meeting between Modi and the Crown Prince?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: Well, as I have said I have already indicated the meetings which have been fixed, others are still in the pipeline. So we will let you know once they are fixed or if they have been fixed.

Question: Can we have the exact itinerary, which meeting will be on which day, you have not specified that.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:
I will share that with you. I have the program with me and I will share with you.

Thank you sir and thank you all for joining. This concludes the special briefing on Prime Minister’s visit for the G20 Summit.



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