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Briefing by Vishnu Prakash, MEA, on Thai PMÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s visit to India
Official SpokespersonÃ‚Â Vishnu Prakash: Good afternoon and good to see all of you. Let me start off by introducing my colleague Joint Secretary (South) Arun Goyal, who is responsible for our relations with ASEAN countries including Thailand.
You are aware that Prime Minister of Thailand HE Abhisit Vejjajiva is coming tomorrow on a state visit at the invitation of the Prime Minister of India. This would be his first visit to India. He leads a delegation that includes the Foreign Minister of Thailand, the President of Thai Trade Representative, Secretary-General to the Prime Minister, Vice-Minister in the Prime Minister Ã¢â‚¬Ëœs Office, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a number of other senior officials.
In the delegation-level talks the Prime Minister of India would be assisted by the External Affairs Minister, Home Minister, Commerce and Industries Minister, Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister, National Security Advisor, Secretary (East) Ã‚Â Sanjay Singh, my colleague Arun Goyal, and a number of other senior officials.
A brief overview of the programme. Tomorrow he has a breakfast meeting with CEOÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s of Indian companies. Thereafter there is a ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan by the Prime Minister of India. EAM will call on the visiting dignitary, who himself would be calling on the President and Vice-President of India. The three Chambers of Commerce Ã¢â‚¬â€œ FICCI, CII and ASSOCHAM Ã¢â‚¬â€œ would be hosting a business luncheon for the Prime Minister with captains of Indian trade and industry. In the evening he holds delegation-level talks with the Prime Minister of India, who would also be hosting a banquet in his honour. The visiting Prime Minister emplanes for Bangkok late in the evening tomorrow (April 5).
Thailand is effectively a neighbour of India. We share a maritime boundary. Our unique civilisational links date back many a millennia, and we have traditionally enjoyed close, cultural, religious and linguistic affinities. Buddhism has been one of the enduring bonds between the two countries. Currently some 40,000 tourists from Thailand mostly come for pilgrimage to Buddhist sites. Thai language incorporates Pali and Sanskrit influences. And what is more, Thailand is home to a large Indian diaspora which is close to 150,000.
In recent years, political exchanges and high-level political contacts have intensified and we have seen excellent results on ground in terms of deepening and expansion of our multifaceted ties. The present Prime Minister assumed office in December 2008 and this is his first visit. But the two Prime Ministers have been meeting regularly. Dr. Manmohan Singh and the Thai Prime Minister met in October 2009 at Hua Hin, Thailand, during the Seventh India-ASEAN Summit meeting. Next, they also met in Hanoi during the East Asia Summit and Eighth India-ASEAN Summit meeting in October , 2010. This high-level attention has led to a robust expansion on our cooperation including in areas like economics and trade, security, defence, culture, people-to-people contacts, and the others.
India and Thailand are important regional partners linking south and southeast Asia. We are members of and cooperate closely in a number of international fora including ASEAN, the East-Asia Summit, BIMSTEC, and others. The economic and trade relationship does constitute one of the important elements of our relationship. I am pleased to note that our bilateral trade grew six times in ten years from 2000, and last year crossed 6.6 billion dollars. In fact, last year alone saw a spike of something like 34 per cent.
Investments in both directions have been growing. Indian companies have invested over 1.5 billion dollars. And the Thai companies, according to the Thai statistics, have invested more than half of that amount at about 800 million dollars. Major Indian companies and business houses are established in Thailand, doing very good business in Thailand. That includes the Tata Group, the Aditya Birla Group. By the way the Tata Group is in a variety of sectors including automobile, steel, software. Aditya Birla Group is in chemicals and textiles. There is the Indorama Group; Ranbaxy, Dabur, Lupin in pharmaceuticals; Bharti Airtel, NIIT, Punj Lloyd. So, you note that some of the well-known names in the Indian industrial circles have a good presence in Thailand.
Likewise, Thai companies are present in India in diverse fields including agroprocessing, infrastructure Ã¢â‚¬â€œ where they have a number of core strengths Ã¢â‚¬â€œ automobile, engineering, banking, housing, and so on. Thai companies, do have core strengths in infrastructure development including roads, elevated highways, metros, housing complexes. And a number Thai companies have actually been awarded infrastructure projects and are currently executing them including the Kolkata International Airport, some sections of Delhi Metro, hydro projects, national highways, and others.
But there is still a lot of untapped potential both in trade and economic sides and that is what both sides seek to harness. In that direction, in October 2003 a Framework Agreement on India-Thailand Free Trade Agreement was signed in Bangkok and we had 82 products that were identified under the Early Harvest Scheme for eliminating duties. We have been discussing a comprehensive India-Thailand Free Trade Agreement on Goods, Services, and Investments as a single undertaking. The last round has just been concluded on the 1st of April. Parallel to that has been the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement in Goods that came into being on the 1st of January last year, and we are currently negotiating the FTA in Services and Investments. So, we have these agreements with ASEAN and specifically with Thailand which are aimed at giving our economic and commercial ties a substantial boost.
As I said, India and Thailand share a maritime boundary. We have similar challenges and concerns. And it is natural that we coordinate and cooperate in areas of security and defence, which includes joint exercises, coordinated patrolling, ship calls, training of officers in each otherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s armed forces institutions, and so on.
Given our proximity and the civilisational links that we have had, it is not surprising that Thailand is one of the most attractive destinations for Indian tourists. Last year we had upwards of 700,000 Indian tourists that went to Thailand. I am told that Thailand sees Indian tourists as one of the fastest growing segments. Currently, we have 140 flights between Thailand and multiple cities in India.
We also have an active cultural exchange programme and an Indian Cultural Centre was established in Bangkok in September 2009. Similarly, we have a Memorandum of Understanding on Education Cooperation. And last year we had offered 130 scholarships under ITEC and ICCR to our Thai friends. In addition, a large number of Thai students have been studying in India on self-financing basis. We are in contact; we are working with Thai educational institutes and universities for setting up of Centre of Indian Studies. We also have an important Thailand-India Joint Commission, which is led by the Foreign Ministers of the two sides, which oversees the active programme of cooperation between the two countries. We expect the next round of the Joint Commission meeting to take place soon.
In short, Thailand is one of IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s valuable partners, close partners in the ASEAN region. The visit of the Prime Minister of Thailand reflects a tradition of regular high-level exchanges and contacts between the two countries and serves to underscore the commitment and the importance the two sides attach to the relationship. We are confident that his visit and the discussions here will impart a new momentum to our excellent relations.
Prime Minister of India and the Prime Minister of Thailand are expected to have wide-ranging discussions on an array of bilateral, regional and international issues. We expect to issue a joint statement tomorrow at the conclusion of the visit.
Thank you. My colleague and I will be happy to take questions on the visit of the Prime Minister of Thailand to India.
Question: Can we have names of some of the major Thai companies that have invested in India?
Joint Secretary (South) (Arun Goyal): Thai companies are especially strong in the infrastructure sector whether tourism, roads, bridges, complexes, housing, and so on, and that is one area where Indian economy is looking actively to have foreign companies come and bring in the expertise. Currently, Thai companies are doing the Kolkata Airport, some portions of the Delhi Metro, but we are trying that they take more and more projects in the tourism sector, especially on the Buddhist circuit. Some of the leading companies presently in India from Thailand are, C P Aquaculture (India) Ltd., Ital Thai Development Pcl., Krung Thai Bank Pcl., Charoen Pokphand (India) Private Limited, Stanley Electric Engineering India Pvt. Ltd., Thai Summit Neel Auto Pvt. Ltd., Thai Airways International Pcl., Precious Shipping (PSL) of Thailand, Preuksa Real Estate, Dusit and Amari group of hotels.
Question: Sir, is India likely to bring up the Red Shirts issue especially since the elections are on card in Thailand soon?
Joint Secretary (South): No, we do not comment on the internal developments in another country. As you are well aware, Thailand has been going through a period of difficulty with opposition groups publicly coming out in protest. Yes, in the near future they are going in for elections and which have to be held before the end of this year. But we do not intend siding with any faction.
Question: Negotiations for FTA are concluded or continuing?
Official Spokesperson: As I said, we had the last round of negotiations just three days ago, that was on Friday, on the 31st of March to the 1st of April. This is something that both the sides are interested in. Therefore, I very consciously gave you the figure of 34 per cent hike in trade last year. And it was not fortuitous, it was partly due to the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement in Goods that was signed. So, both sides do see a lot of potential because our economies in so many ways are complementary and there is the desire on both sides to work towards concluding a comprehensive FTA covering all segments of trade, investments, services, and so on.
Question: Is this to be signed during the visit of the Prime Minister?
Official Spokesperson: We are negotiating it. I think we need to work on it together. It should happen in the near future.
Question: Thai investment is 400 million dollars while our investment is 1.5 billion dollars. Why the mismatch? And, is coordinated patrolling going to start any time soon? And, what are the initiatives that are being taken in security cooperation?
Official Spokesperson: The Indian investments, you are right, since 1970 are in the range of 1.5 billion dollars. The figure of Thai investments as per the Thai authorities is in the range of 800 million dollars. Certainly we would welcome more Thai investments to India.
The coordinated patrolling is taking place already. That is for the simple reason that we share a maritime boundary, we have similar concerns on issues like counter-terrorism, piracy and smuggling. The coordinated patrolling has been found useful by both sides.
Security and defence is one area which both sides are looking at enhancing cooperation . We mentioned the joint patrolling. We have joint exercises. There are regular port calls by ships from both countries. We have exchange of representatives of the armed forces on both sides. There is joint training in each otherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s armed forces institutions. So, in short, both India and Thailand do find that security and defence cooperation is of mutual benefit.
Question: Can you identify the maritime areas where patrolling is going on?
Joint Secretary (South): The north of Bay of Bengal. Once you have a look at the map you will realize that Thailand occupies a very strategic position as far as the Straits of Malacca are concerned. So, this is the area where the Naval passage and for commercial shipping it is extremely important. These are the areas.
Official Spokesperson: And in addition, piracy. I think piracy is an issue which concerns not just India but Thailand and a number of other countries. Our Navy has come to the rescue of Thai sailors some of who have been abducted by the Somali pirates in the last few years.
Question: Does the patrolling area extend up to Malacca Straits?
Joint Secretary (South): The mouth of Malacca Straits.
Question: Any new initiative for this cooperation of the Ocean information to avert the international phenomena like tsunami and other things? Any real time information-sharing with Thailand?
Joint Secretary (South): This is already an area of collaboration, sharing of information. Tsunami early-warning system and earthquake prediction etc., is an ongoing thing.
Question: Could you elaborate on education? You said there would be lots of cooperation as far as education is concerned. Indians are going there to train, opening universities. Would you elaborate a bit on that?
Joint Secretary (South): It was not said that Indians are going there to open universities. It was merely mentioned that we have long historical links with Thailand in the field of culture. Now recently we have assisted Thai universities in the field of Sanskrit language school and provision of Sanskrit professors in three different universities. We have opened up a cultural centre on September 2009 in Bangkok. So, in specialized niche areas where Indian studies or Sanskrit studies are concerned, naturally the way to move forward is provision of professors from India on a short-term basis.
Official Spokesperson: If I may, I will just like to add a few bits here. I said that we are offering about 130 scholarships. In addition to that a number of Thai students come to study in Indian universities especially in areas like management studies, IT, some even in English, on a self-financing basis. There is a growing interest in Indian studies. Therefore, we are working with the Thai education institutions in setting up centres or Chairs on Indian studies. My colleague did mention the names. To get into specifics, we have an India Study Centre at Thammasat University in Bangkok since April 1993. In 2008, a Master of Arts course on Indian studies was instituted by the Mahidol University of Bangkok. In 2008 again we contributed about ten million Thai Bhat for construction of new building for Sanskrit Studies in Silpakorn University, Bangkok. We also, as my colleague said, deputed a Sanskrit Professor. Now, to impart more momentum to this aspect of engagement of education and culture, we have an Indian Cultural Centre which was set up just about a year and a half ago. And we have an active cultural exchange programme also. These are some of the elements that we wanted to mention to just give you a sense of our cooperation in this vital sector because people-to-people contacts are something which go at the heart of any relationship.
Courtesy: Ministry of External Affairs