Brisbane, Nov 14:
Ahead of the G20 Summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his first bilateral meetings with European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and British Prime Minister David Cameron where economic cooperation was top on the agenda. He ended the day with a dinner hosted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Modi, who flew down here earlier in the day for the G20 Summit that begins Saturday, first visited the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) here and listened keenly to the latest developments in agricultural research, and also mingled with students and researchers.
Modi held talks with an EU delegation headed by Rompuy who conveyed that the bloc was keen to “re-engage” with India in all areas, especially trade. Modi told him that the “EU should take advantage of the new economic environment in India”.
An India-EU free trade agreement is yet to be concluded. Negotiations are still stuck on key points, including the EU’s demand for significant duty cuts in automobiles and tax cuts on wines and spirits and dairy products and also a demand for a strong intellectual property rights regime. The value of EU-India trade grew from 28.6 billion euros in 2003 to 72.7 billion euros in 2013.
Modi’s proposal of having an international Yoga Day, which he had proposed at the UN, got further impetus with Rompuy telling him that the 28-member bloc supported his initiative for a Yoga Day. “EU supports your initiative for a Yoga Day @UN A- EU Prez Herman Von Rompuy to PM @narendramodi,” tweeted the ministry of external affairs.
The support comes as about 130 countries have joined as co-sponsors to an India-led UN General Assembly resolution recognising yoga’s benefits and to commemorate an International Day of Yoga, in response to Modi’s call for holding such an event.
His meeting with Cameron was another highlight of his engagements at Brisbane. Cameron, who is meeting the Indian prime minister for the first time, told him that relations with India were at the “top of the priorities of UK’s foreign policy” and also “Your’s is a very inspiring vision, UK wants to partner in any way we can”, according to tweets posted by the external affairs ministry.
Though he was meeting the British prime minister for the first time, the ground for an upscale in bilateral relations was laid during the visit by British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond and later Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to India in the past few months. Britain is pushing for the European Consortium to bag the multi-billion dollar Indian deal for 126 fighter jets with its Eurofighter Typhoon in case the Modi government’s negotiations for the French Rafale jets fall through. The European Consortium comprises Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Modi will have bilateral meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and also Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on the sidelines of the G20. He will also meet French President Francois Hollande, who is likely to push for negotiations to clinch the multi-billion dollar deal for the Rafale, which was selected two years ago for the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) project.
The dinner diplomacy with Abe was the high point of the day as the Japanese prime minister escorted Modi to the repast where strengthening of India-Japan economic ties and exchange of views was high on the agenda. Modi had visited Japan in August for the annual summit that saw the two leaders hit it off and both sides clinched several agreements, including in railways and infrastructure.
Japan also sees India as a friend and ally after souring of ties with China following a bitter territorial dispute with Beijing over islands in the East China Sea. Earlier, after arriving in Brisbane from Myanmar where he attended the Asean-India and East Asia Summits and met with a host of world leaders, Modi visited the QUT. He wrote “Research is the mother of development” on an agricultural robot developed by the university and also undertook a tour of a QUT-India project to develop iron-rich bananas. The Agro Robot is a lightweight machine that performs the functions of a large tractor, including weeding.
Modi was given a tour of The Cube, one of the world’s largest interactive learning and display spaces. He listened with interest as the QUT research team explained projects to develop iron-rich bananas to help stamp out iron-deficiency anaemia in India, and also to create cheaper fuels and chemicals from agricultural waste. Modi also listened keenly to QUT’s expertise in the development of drought-resistant chickpeas and other pulses, staple foods in India.