Prime Minister Narendra Modi sets off on Saturday on a five-nation visit to Afghanistan, Qatar, Switzerland, the United States and Mexico during which the focus will be to broaden India’s trade, energy and security cooperation with them and inject a new momentum in ties.
Modi is likely to seek support of Switzerland and Mexico for India’s membership of the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group as both these countries are key members of the elite group. The issue is likely to figure during Modi’s meeting with Obama in Washington.
During his talks with the leadership of Switzerland, the prime minister is also likely to raise the issue of black money stashed by Indians in Swiss banks.
The prime minister will first travel to Afghanistan where he will inaugurate the Afghan-India Friendship Dam, earlier known as Salma Dam, in Herat province, along with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Both the leaders will also hold talks on a range of issues including current situation in Afghanistan.
From Afghanistan, Modi will travel to energy-rich Qatar on Saturday itself and from there he will leave for a two day visit to Switzerland on Sunday.
Asked at a press briefing on the PM’s visit whether the issue of black money will be raised by Modi during his talks with Swiss leaders, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said both the countries are in touch on the issue.
“We are in touch with the Swiss government under the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement mandate and we have had some discussions on this and we have a few planned in the near future. We have received support from the Swiss authorities on exchange of information on tax data between the two countries.
“We do hope to engage as early as possible in the automatic exchange of information with Switzerland and this has been conveyed to Swiss tax authorities,” he said.
On India’s bid for NSG membership, Jaishankar said India has been eyeing membership of the premier group for many, many years and that it has made “lot of progress” on that.
“I think we have made lot of progress and that has led us to formally apply for the NSG membership some days ago. We are engaged with all NSG members regarding this issue and Switzerland is definitely an important member and definitely, I would expect it to come up,” he said.
India has formally applied for membership of the NSG on May 12.
From Switzerland, the PM travels to Washington on June 6 where he will have a packed schedule including an address to a joint session of the US Congress. He will be the fifth Indian prime minister to do so.
Modi will begin his US visit on June 6 by paying tributes at the Arlington National Cemetery. He will then meet heads of a number of American think tanks and will attend an event to repatriate Indian antiquity by the US.
On June 7, the prime minister will hold wide-ranging talks with US President Obama on the entire gamut of bilateral ties. The meeting will be followed by a launch to be hosted by Obama for Modi.
In the afternoon, Modi will meet business leaders and address the US-India Business Council during which he is expected to highlight measures taken by his government to ensure ease of doing business.
On June 8, Modi will address the a joint meeting of the US Congress which will be followed by a lunch to be hosted by the speaker. A reception is also being organised for Modi by the House and Senate Committees on foreign relations and the India Caucus. The Prime Minister will attend a community reception as well.
The prime minister will be staying at Blair House, the president’s guesthouse.
“The US visit is sort of a consolidation visit...They (Modi and Obama) have work together to take forward the relationship,” said the foreign secretary while highlighting progress of bilateral ties in the last two years including in areas of trade and defence. The two countries will come out with a joint statement.
Asked whether PM’s visit to Mexico and Switzerland was added at the last minute, the foreign secretary said the idea of visit to Switzerland arose from a meeting the PM had with Swiss president on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit earlier this year.
He said visit to Mexico was being considered since September last year.
On Modi’s visit to Afghanistan, Jaishankar said the dam built at a cost of over Rs 1,700 crore will irrigate nearly 75,000 hectares of land in Herat province. The dam was first conceived by Afghanistan in 1976.
Jaishankar said completion of the dam project is “monumental” and the priority for India now is to complete all pending projects in Afghanistan. Issues relating to security cooperation are also likely to figure during talks between Modi and Ghani.
About the Qatar visit, the strategically important Gulf region was key for India’s energy security and that the country supplies 60 per cent of India’s total LNG.
In Qatar, the PM will hold talks with his counterpart Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani and Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on a host of issues which may include trade and security.
The PM will also visit a workers’ camp in Doha. On Sunday, he will meet business leaders before holding talks with the Emir. He will also interact with the Indian community.
The size of annual bilateral trade between India and Qatar is around $10 billion (Rs 67,000 crores) and both the countries would like to expand it significantly. Qatar has a major sovereign wealth fund and India was eyeing to attract investment from it.
During his visit to Switzerland, the PM will hold talks with President of the Swiss Confederation Johann Schneider-Ammann on bilateral, regional and multilateral issues of mutual interest.
Switzerland is India’s fifth largest trading partner of India. The European country is also the 11th largest foreign investor in India.
Jaishankar said a raft of issues to bolster trade partnership will be discussed by the PM with the Swiss leadership.
The PM will arrive in Mexico from the US on June 8. He will have extensive talks with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on key bilateral issues including India’s membership bid at the NSG.
This will be the first bilateral visit by an Indian PM after 1986 when then PM Rajiv Gandhi had visited that country. Then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had visited Mexico in 2012 to attend G 20 summit.
The PM will leave for India on the evening of June 8.