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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary on Prime Minister's forthcoming visit to UK (November 10, 2015)

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vikas Swarup): Good afternoon friends and welcome to this press briefing on Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to the United Kingdom. We have with us today Foreign Secretary Dr. S. Jaishankar and Mrs. Nandini Singla, Joint Secretary (Europe West). 

Foreign Secretary will give you a broad overview of the Prime Minister’s programme in the UK. He is pressed for time. So, we will not be able to take too many questions after that. I am warning you in advance. With that, the floor is Foreign Secretary’s.

Foreign Secretary (Dr. S. Jaishankar): Thank you Vikas.I think as most of you know, the Prime Minister is paying three-day visit to the UK on the 12th, 13th and 14th of November. This is the first bilateral visit after nine years. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh last visited in 2006. He was also there in 2009 for the G20 summit.

This is an important visit for a number of reasons. I think most of you would agree that the UK is a major power with considerable global influence, and engaging such a power is obviously important in foreign policy. It is a permanent member of the Security Council, of the EU, of the G-8, of the G-20, of the NATO, of the important export control regimes, of the OECD. That gives you a sense of the kind of issues which could come up in the political discussions.

Secondly, the UK is also the city of London. It is a very important financial centre. At a time when we are seeking to attract capital and technology and best practices from abroad, the investment and economic aspects of this visit will be very important.

Thirdly, the diaspora aspect. We have the second largest Indian diaspora in the UK. Persons of Indian Origin are roughly about a million and a half. We also have a more than three lakh NRIs resident in UK. They broadly constitute two per cent of the UK population. They are well represented politically as well. We have ten MPs of Indian origin, 24 Peers of Indian origin. That is the diaspora aspect.

Then there is the modern UK, the science and technology UK, the clean technology UK. Actually UK is among our top five S&T partners. We have a number of joint research, innovation and collaboration programmes. We have 20,000 students there. Actually for Indian students it is probably, after the US, the second choice in going abroad. So, there is that aspect.

In fact on the people-to-people side please bear in mind as well that our tourism links with UK are very very important. We get more than ten lakh tourists from UK, four lakh Indians visit U.K. annually.

Finally, it is a country with whom we have obviously a very special history, a very unique bonds. We share a number of institutions and values. I would say this in a sense is the backdrop for the visit.

Now in terms of our PM and PM Cameron, this would be their third meeting. They met at the Brisbane G20 last year; then they met this year in September at the UNGA; and PM Cameron himself has visited India thrice. He and his party have both spoken strongly in terms of enhancing their relationship with India. So, we reciprocate that interest, that commitment and therefore this visit.

The programme essentially has five pillars. The government-to-government discussions would be between the two Prime Ministers, both at 10, Downing Street as well as at the Checkers which is the official residence of the British Prime Minister. There will be an address at the UK Parliament. There will be business engagements, a meeting of the CEOs Forum of the two countries which has been reconstituted, as well as an important address to the finance and economic sectors of UK. Prime Minister would be having a lunch with Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace. And there will be an engagement with the Indian diaspora.

Prime Minister will also be visiting the JLR factory at Solihull, which is actually in essence the flagship Indian investment in UK. He has a number of other engagements which include a visit to the house which Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had occupied when he was a student at the London School of Economics, as well as the unveiling of a bust of Shri Basaveshwara right at the Thames river embankment.

Just in terms of some sort of, I would say, special gestures or elements of this visit, I think you have the stay in Checkers. It is a little unusual. Other Prime Ministers have been there, not recently. The speech which the PM would give at the UK Parliament, to my understanding, would be the first time that an Indian Prime Minister would be speaking there. Prime Minister Cameron would be with him for most of his programme, and in fact would be escorting him to the House of Commons chamber.

The Prime Minister - I did not mention this earlier - would be paying homage at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi near the Parliament which was inaugurated last year. We expect a fly-past with our national colours coinciding with that. And we expect a very significant community event. I think most of the other programme elements I have covered. 

In terms of the bilateral relationship with the UK, it has been a strategic relationship now for eleven years since 2004. And UK and India are actually leading investors in each other’s countries. Our ballpark figure for UK investments in India is in excess of USD 22 billion. It amounts to nine per cent of the current FDI level in India. It is much harder to get a figure for Indian investments in UK but I think the working assumption is that this is somewhere in the USD 500-600 million range per year for the last few years. 

We have 122 Indian FDI investments in the UK. We are a significant job creator there. In terms of trade, again UK is a significant partner. We have almost USD 18 billion worth of trade. About 14 is the trade in goods of which we export 9 plus, we import about 5, and we have a trade in services of about USD 4 billion plus. 

As I mentioned, we have a very robust partnership in science and technology, education, healthcare and culture. We have 800 Indian companies operating in the UK. So, this is broadly the state of the relationship.

In terms of what the discussions would be, obviously there would be a lot of political and security-related discussions both on global and regional issues including on countering terrorism and extremism.

We will try to deepen the economic engagement. So, there would be again a lot of focus particularly as there is growing interest in the reviving Indian economy. So, I think the message of the fact that it is getting easier to do business is resonating. So, you will see business agreements, some of which would be announced at the business event during the visit. I think the Prime Minister’s speech at the economic event is also something which is eliciting a certain amount of interest.

There will be a number of outcome documents. Mostly we do joint statements at the conclusion of all important visits. But in addition, we expect a statement on defence and security partnership, one on development partnership because today both India and the UK provide ODA, do projects abroad. So, we see some advantages in working together there. There would be a statement on energy and climate change, and possibly some sort of a broader statement, a vision statement sort of thing, in addition.

That is essentially the context in which the visit is taking place, broadly what you can expect from there. I would be happy to take a few questions.

Question: Sir, can you elaborate on the visit to the Tata factory, JLR factory?

Foreign Secretary: What I can tell you is, it is as I said our largest investment by an Indian company in the UK. In fact it is my understanding that this is the largest private sector manufacturing employer in the UK. The JLR today produces 425,000 vehicles which are sold really across the world. Do note that when this was first acquired it was a company which was running at a loss; it was turned around in five years; and its revenue of course have increased enormously.

I think in many ways it is a symbol of a much more contemporary economic relationship between the two countries. Shall I say, a visit there drives home the message that we are job makers and not job takers? I believe that the particular facility that we are going to has some very unique features including a very modern aluminium bodybuilding part of the plant. I think these were broadly the elements which went into our thinking as we planned that visit.

Question: Sir, though you have given some glimpses of what is the outcome of this visit, still there are many issues that you did not elaborate. There have been differences between in India and the UK over the visa issue, high visa fees, and also politically and businesswise also there was willingness from UK but India did not come forward too much. When Prime Minister is going after such a long time ...

Foreign Secretary: Willingness on what? 

Question: UK has been willing to do more business with India but from Indian side I do not think there has been much progress. Can you elaborate on this? What is the major takeaway from UK to India at this time?

Foreign Secretary: Let me just approach this visit rather than what could have happened and what did not happen. To my mind, lot of these visits have very practical outcomes. Let us take what you can expect to see in London.

Clearly if the Prime Minister were to interact with the business and financial circles of the UK, sort of put across our policies, our economic policies, with a degree of clarity and authority and credibility, this does affect the investment perception of India which at the end of the day really means jobs in India. Now if you look at the agreements we are negotiating, the conversations we are having, and the partnerships that are likely to come out, a lot of them in some way or the other actually have an impact on the ground. 

For example if you look at the skilling initiative, it really means you are creating higher value jobs. If you look at health initiatives, you are improving both the access to healthcare and the quality of healthcare in India. If you are looking at clean technologies, you could feed into the Ganga Rejuvenation campaign. If you are looking at energy, Britain is today a major player in clean energy. I think look at lot of these flagship campaigns in India to change India, then look at what is happening outside and see the connect in a sense between the two. 

Even the political and defence, I would argue for example the UK still has a lot of experience, knowledge, presence even today in a number of parts of the world which are of interest to us. They still, for example, have a contingent in Afghanistan. If you have counterterrorism understandings with the UK, at the end of the day it actually keeps India more secure.

There is the glitz of a visit, all of that, but I would suggest to you that at the end of it all there are very very practical outcomes from these kinds of visits.

Question: Foreign Secretary, as I understand, Prime Minister was also supposed to, perhaps it was being planned, go to Cambridge. Why is he not going there? Is it because of protest? What is the reason?

Foreign Secretary: At no stage in his programme was the Prime Minister to go to Cambridge. I myself have done two visits prior to PM going there, to plan the programme. This was never on the cards and that is not an issue.

Question: Sir, Pradhan Mantri, Ambedkarji ke ghar bhi jaa rahe hain. Yeh kis liye aur kya koi rajnaitik ghoshna bhi hogi vahan se?

Foreign Secretary: Jaise mujhe pata hai, this is the house where Dr. Ambedkar lived in 1921-22 when he was studying in the London School of Economics. And then, a number of people who felt that he should be honoured and that there was a message in terms of his presence and his education in the UK, felt that this house should be acquired. This house was acquired by the Maharashtra Government earlier this year with, I should say, the support of the MEA.

When the house was acquired it was not in very good condition. So, the house is sort of now undergoing renovation. It is a very small house, I must tell you. I think if you look at the two rooms of the house, it would be half this auditorium, maybe less than that. So, my understanding is that there would be a display of objects associated with Dr. Ambedkar out there and the Prime Minister would dedicate the house during his visit.

In a sense there is no big event. The Prime Minister would go there. It is not the kind of place where anything big is possible. He would really go into this house, there are these rooms, he would dedicate the building, and that is really what it is.

Question: Foreign Secretary, recently Britain hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping with all the pomp and ceremony of a state visit. I know you are not in the business of comparison but in what way Prime Minister Modi’s visit will surpass that of the Chinese leader’s visit in terms of optics and outcomes? And more specifically in the civil nuclear arena what can we see? Is there going to be any movement forward?

Foreign Secretary: First of all, I am not in the business of comparisons. Now that I am not, I can also say it is actually not practical to compare apples and oranges. I think we have a different history with the UK. As I said right at the start, there is a connect between us. It is a connect of values and history and institutions and thoughts. We have a big community in the UK. For example, I expect more than a few people to come to Wembley. I am not sure that there was something like that in the last visit which you are referring to, which I am not comparing it to.

So, my sense is, ours is a different relationship. I think even in the UK it is recognised as a different relationship with a different historical basis, with different prospects, with a different level of bonding. And in terms of how it would play out my sense is, wait and see. The pictures will tell you everything you need to know. 

I think on the civil nuclear there could be something with the UK but again our positions are very dissimilar. So, I would not compare that either. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson: I am afraid Foreign Secretary has to go, we have to cut short this briefing here.

Nov 12, 2015
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