Transcript of Foreign Secretary’s Special Briefing on Prime Minister’s Visit to Italy

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Very good evening to all of you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for joining us at late hour and also for those who are joining in on our live video stream back in India Namaskar and Welcome. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is in Rome, this is the first day of his visit. And to tell us about what is happening and what we have planned, we are really privileged to have with us here, the Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who will take us through it. Sir, without further ado, may I hand over the floor to you, sir.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Namaskar and good evening and it is good to meet up with our friends from the media again. You’re aware the Prime Minister landed in Rome this morning. The primary purpose of his visit is to attend the 16th G20 Summit. But he also is using the opportunity to do a number of bilateral meetings with Heads of State and Government. After his arrival, the Prime Minister met with the President of the European Council, His Excellency Mr. Charles Michel; and the President of the European Commission, Her Excellency Ms. Ursula von der Leyen. In terms of the background, you’re aware that the Prime Minister will join other G20 Leaders tomorrow in discussions on the global economic and health recovery from the pandemic, sustainable development and climate change, among other issues.

Our G20 Sherpa, our Commerce and Industry Minister has briefed you some detail on that I understand. So I’ll focus on some of the engagements Prime Minister had today. On the meeting with the Presidents of the European Commission and Council, as well as the meeting that has just been held with the Prime Minister of Italy, H.E. Mario Draghi. The main issues of discussion with those really, if you look at it, those that relate to the G20 Summit, and there was a discussion on the issue of health recovery, recovery from COVID, economic recovery at a global level. There was a discussion on climate change issues and also the discussion extended to some areas of regional and global interest, including the situation in Afghanistan, the Indo Pacific were discussed in both meetings.

Now, as far as the EU is concerned, I think the leaders recalled that they had very, very significant exchange when the India-EU leaders meeting in the form of the EU plus 27 took place in May this year, and the 15th India-EU Summit took place in July 2020. The EU is one of India’s very important partners and in today’s meetings, the leaders reviewed India-EU cooperation covering political and security relations, trade and investment relations, as well as ‘Roadmap 2025’ adopted at the last India-EU summit. As I mentioned, they also discussed developments around climate change, COVID-19 pandemic and contemporary global and regional developments of interest.

Prime Minister highlighted India’s perspectives on climate change, Afghanistan, the Indo Pacific. The EU leaders as well as the Italian Prime Minister did congratulate Prime Minister for India’s excellent progress on vaccination, both in terms of numbers of vaccines actually administered in our country and also in terms of the percentage of people covered in terms of the first dose. In the afternoon, the Prime Minister paid a floral tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at the Piazza Gandhi, this was in the presence of a large number of members of the Indian community who came there to greet the Prime Minister, who were there and did so with great enthusiasm.

As we speak, the Prime Minister is also meeting separately, members of the Indian diaspora in Italy, Friends of India from different organisations, including representatives of the Italian Hindu Union, the Italian congregation for Krishna consciousness, Sikh community and institutions involved in the commemoration of Indian soldiers who fought in Italy during the world wars. He is also interacting with several Indologists and Sanskrit scholars during the meeting. Prime Minister has been appreciative of the role played by community members in strengthening ties between India and Italy.

As far as the meeting with the Prime Minister of Italy at the Palazzo Chigi is concerned, the official office and residence of Prime Minister of Italy, this was their first in person meeting. The Prime Minister has spoken on a number of occasions with the Prime Minister Draghi including recently on the 27th of August when they discussed the issue of Afghanistan and as you know, Prime Minister Draghi invited him to participate in the international summit on Afghanistan, and which the Prime Minister did and there was some conversation on that issue as well. I think they reviewed the progress since the India-Italy virtual summit that was held in November 2020. And of course, looked at other areas of cooperation.

To provide fresh impetus to the bilateral cooperation in renewable and clean energy, India and Italy issued a joint statement announcing a strategic partnership on energy transition, and agreed to explore partnerships in areas such as large size green corridor projects, smart grids, energy storage solutions, gas transportation, integrated waste management, waste to wealth as is called, development and deployment of green hydrogen and promotion of biofuels. India and Italy also signed an agreement, statement of intent on textiles cooperation, during the meeting. There was a very good discussion on two way investments, particularly in the clean energy and renewable sector, where Italy has a lot of expertise and I think this is something that both Prime Ministers agreed to see how we can take forward.

As you can see, it’s been a very active first day in Rome. Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will pay a call on His Holiness, Pope Francis at the Vatican City, and thereafter, he will attend G20 sessions, where he will also hold more bilateral meetings and we will continue to keep you informed.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much, sir. We’ll take a few questions. There is a genuine time constraint because I think Foreign Secretary has to go for another engagement. So let me open the floor. Sidhant.

Sidhant: Hi, I’m Sidhant from WION. My question is during the meeting with the EU leaders earlier today in the morning, when it comes to focus on mutual recognition of vaccine certificates, how much there was a focus on recognising India’s vaccines, the Indian vaccine certificates? Also, when it comes to the issue of terrorism, the emphasis by the Indian side if you can talk about that as well.

Manish Chand: Sir, Manish Chand, India Writes Network. My question is that in the last summit, there was a proposal that India and Italy will explore working together in third countries, in regions like Africa, and of course, now Indo Pacific is the happening thing, you know, in your political arena. In the Indo Pacific and in third countries was there any discussion on some concrete plans for cooperation?

Speaker 1: Bloomberg News. Minister, could you please tell us more detail from what is the exact proposal from Indian side to G20 members on mutual recognition of the vaccines against COVID-19 so they will ensure easy international travel? Will you be able to elaborate on the agenda of Prime Minister’s meeting with the Pope tomorrow? I mean, what exact issues they plan to discuss, specially with Christians in India or what else? The other thing is…

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: We have a time constraint so….

Speaker 1: And if you can elaborate about what are your expectations on funds and tech transfer ahead of the COP26 Summit? Especially more on its partnership with the US, if I may just notice that US promised to help India with funds tech and it seeks cooperation on the climate. Thank you.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Let’s start with vaccination certification because I was asked both by Sidhant and Bloomberg. The issue of vaccination certification was, I think discussed especially with the EU representatives. And I think the issue of easier access, travel with normalisation that is increasingly seen as countries recover from the COVID pandemic was certainly discussed. There was a conversation on mutual recognition of vaccines. I think there is a sense that this is one very, I would say, doable mechanism through which we can facilitate easier international travel. The details of this will have to be worked out bilaterally. I think the European Union; European Council can only provide general guidelines. Having said that, I think quite a few EU countries have already responded to our proposal, we are already making some headway in that regard. And the question was also on the G20. We have proposed a mutual recognition of vaccination certification even at the G20. But as we speak, discussions on an outcome document are still on. So I think most countries are quite happy with the idea of facilitating smoother international travel. Whether that detail is something that will emerge is yet to be seen but the fact of the matter is that a number of countries feel that easier access and easier travel is something that we need to collectively work on. And that point that the Prime Minister made, I think has been received and noted.

Manish’s question about working in third countries, you mentioned Africa, the ASEAN countries, etc. I think, again, at the level of the European Union, this is something that was spoken about. There was recognition that the European Union had introduced a strategy paper on the Indo Pacific, that there was both President Ursula von der Leyen and President Charles Michel spoke about the importance they attach to the Indo Pacific in general and working with India, in particular. And I think leaders felt that this is something that we needed to discuss further, the Prime Minister did offer that they could send the high level delegation to India, and we could discuss and share notes and experiences, and then perhaps even set up a task force that can take cooperation on the Indo Pacific with the European Union forward. As you know several European Union member states like France, Germany, the Netherlands have already introduced papers and strategy papers in the Indo Pacific, they have a policy on the Indo Pacific. Increasingly, there is a salience on the need for likeminded countries to cooperate on the Indo Pacific and this is something that I think is clearly gathering traction and the Prime Minister’s conversations with leaders today tended to indicate similar attraction and momentum in that regard.

With regard to the meeting with His Holiness, the Pope tomorrow, I know that the Prime Minister will have a separate call; he will be meeting his holiness on a one to one basis. And that could, after a certain period of time be followed up by delegation level talks. The Vatican has not set an agenda. I believe, tradition is not to have an agenda when you discuss issues with His Holiness. And I think we would respect that. I’m sure the issues would cover a range of areas of interest in terms of the general global perspectives and issues that are important to all of us, COVID-19, health issues, how we can work together, how we can work together to maintain peace and tranquillity and this is something that, I think would be the general trend in the discussions.

Now, as far as you mentioned about funding, and the issue of technology transfer at COP 26, I think the Prime Minister did articulate some of the, let’s say concerns of the developing countries with regard to greater commitments, even as countries strive to achieve and attain their targets set at the Paris accord at Paris, I think, we are already seeing the goalpost shifting, more targets being set out. Prime Minister took our own example, and said that India actually is not only close to achieving its own NDCs at Paris, but probably exceeding most of them. But at the same time there had to be greater accountability in terms of how we support developing countries in reaching their objectives, specifically, with regard to climate financing, green financing and green technology, that they needed to be more than just a commitment, those had to be more in terms of concrete schedules of, I would say, assurances that could lead to actual concessional flows to developing countries to help them and support them in achieving goals that we are all, I think, in agreement on, the need to take very immediate steps to address the issues of climate change. And there was a lot of discussion on the steps taken in terms of adaptation, mitigation that India is undertaking. And I think, we will have to continue to look at how these discussions go. But I think the Prime Minister made the point quite clearly that more had to be done, there had to be greater effort to not only meet the targets, because many countries were not doing it in real terms. But also you need to bring in other aspects, for example looking at lifestyle changes. India has always been in harmony with nature, we are among the lowest emitters in per capita terms. But at the same time, we believe that one of the ways to do it is to look at really how we can lead sustainable lifestyles on a global basis that would automatically reduce the temperature threshold in terms of climate change. So change in lifestyle as a precondition to achieving our goals in climate change.

Terrorism, I think that issue has been amply brought out specifically in discussions on Afghanistan that were there. Two topics took a lot of time climate change and Afghanistan, with both sets of leaders. And on the issue of Afghanistan, I think the Prime Minister was quite categorical that the situation of Afghanistan could not be seen in isolation, that the failure and inability to provide good governance, the failure to be able to deal with the situation, as it stands, had to also be a subject of introspection and that support to let us say, any form of intimidation or threat that would emerge out of Afghanistan, I think, is something that the international community would have to watch out very carefully for. He did point out that the root causes of the problems in Afghanistan had to be actively looked into, which is essentially, radicalism and extremism, and terrorism, of course, which is a consequence of this had to be very, very carefully examined. So I think there was a strong sentiment, which was fully understood both by our partners in the European Union and in Italy. Both of them reciprocated those sentiments and felt that this is something that needed to be looked into. Of course, it is true that the emphasis is also on the humanitarian situation and Prime Minister Draghi in particular, referred to his efforts during the G20 Summit in Afghanistan to mobilise support to ensure that the people of Afghanistan did not suffer as a consequence of the current situation. The Prime Minister also pointed out that there should be a distinction between those who govern and those who are people in that country and that the people had to be helped. We had offered humanitarian assistance, the Prime Minister said, significant assistance, but we needed to get it across to Afghanistan and that is something that we are working on to ensure that there is direct, unimpeded access of that humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

I just want to mention, coming to the bilateral relationship, that there is the sense that the relationship with Italy had seen a significant upswing in recent years, the Prime Minister said that bilateral relations have seen warmth and vigour, particularly in the areas of investment, trade, and people to people ties, and Prime Minister Draghi, also very strongly reciprocated that sentiment. And the Prime Minister invited him to visit India. He also invited both President Charles Michel and Ursula von de Leyen to visit India as well. So in a certain sense, I think, because of COVID there have been very few exchanges. We want to set the ball rolling, we want to get the momentum going in our diplomatic relations, and you have to see the Prime Minister’s invitation in the context of that effort.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you, sir. Just a couple of more questions. Pranay.

Pranay Upadhyay: “Main Pranay Upadhyay ABP News se. Global supply chain diversification ek mahatvapurn mudda raha hai jisko Bharat bhi uthaata raha hai. EU ke saath jo mulaakat thi, EU President ke saath mein aur Italy ke saath bilateral mulaakat mein bhi kya is maamle par baat hui hai aur kis tareeke se iss par aage ke roadmap ko Bharat badhana chaahta hai? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) I am Pranay Upadhyay from ABP News. Global supply chain diversification has been an important issue which India has also been raising. In the meeting with the EU, with the EU President and also in the bilateral meeting with Italy, has this matter been discussed and in what way does India want to take the roadmap further?”

Speaker 2: Can you tell us something more about Indo-Italian meeting, especially about new frontiers of economic cooperation?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Okay. Let me just quickly answer that one first. I think the two Prime Ministers as I said felt that trade and investment was very important. The Prime Minister of Italy said there were a very large number of Italian companies who were keen to invest in India, do business in India. He said because the shortage of time he could not to give the details of those. But Prime Minister Modi said that he also was keen to increase the collaboration between Indian and Italian companies, attract Italian investments in India, especially as I said in the areas of renewable energy and in the areas such as automobile sector, which there is e-transportation proposal which is on the table, and Italy has some companies that make very good two, three wheelers, which are electric vehicles. So, I think there is scope to work on many of those. So, I think, trade investment, the area of economic exchanges between India and Italy has found a lot of resonance in that meeting between the two leaders.

Pranay ji aapka jo prashn tha supply chains ke baare mein. Resilient supply chains ki baat jaroor hui. Yeh charcha donon EU aur Italian Prime Minister ke saath hui par ismein detail mei nahin ja pae. Par yeh jaroor sthaapit tha ki dono side chaahte hain ki is par aur kam ho aur is par dono side milkar kam karein aur surakshit supply chains jo ham banana chaahte hain bhavishya mein in dono partners ke saath ham miljul ke karenge. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Pranay, your question was about supply chains. There was definitely talk of resilient supply chains. This discussion took place with both the EU and the Italian Prime Minister, but we could not go into detail on this. But it was definitely established that both sides want more work to be done on this and both sides should work together on this and we will work together with these two partners in future to create secure supply chains which we want to create.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sir since not everyone speaks Hindi, I will just translate the last part of it. The query was regarding whether the issue of resilience supply chains was discussed in the conversation with Prime Minister of Italy, our Foreign Secretary explained that the issue did come up although not discussed so much in detail. But the feeling was that we need to work together on this, continue more work on this and to ensure that we have secure and resilient supply chains.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Especially in the context of the Indo Pacific.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: With that, we come to the end of the special media briefing. Thank you very much for joining us here. May I thank you sir for your presence here. And hopefully we will continue to be able to share with you the information. please stay tuned to our social media as well as our website channels. Thank you. Namaskar.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Thank you.