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Virtual Address by Shri Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary [CPV & OIA] on “Enhancing Economic Engagement with Diaspora in and post Covid-19 world” to the PIOCCI (May 27, 2020)

May 28, 2020

Dear friends from the Indian Diaspora,
Office bearers of PIOCCI,
My colleagues from the Ministry of External Affairs
Ladies and Gentlemen,


This is my first interaction with the Persons of Indian Origin Chambers of Commerce and Industry (PIOCCI). I wish to compliment you on your endeavours to bring the diaspora together and in promoting the potential for cooperation and development. I thank you for organising today’s Video Conference on Enhancing Economic Engagement with Diaspora in and post Covid-19 world.

2. These are challenging times. Our endeavour is to seek out the opportunities for riding the waves and staying ahead of the curve, we have to be atmanirbhar so that we can emerge more efficient and more adapted to the new normal. Our hope is that the world the world will continue to be connected and that India will be a factor for global change through new forms of cooperation, rule building and institutions.

3. I shall share some thoughts today on three issues - our vibrant diaspora, our approach to dealing with Covid-19 and our economic agenda for the post Covid-19 world, a process that has already begun.

4. The Indian diaspora, sometimes the term pravasi provides a stronger cultural meaning, today constitutes an important, and in many respects a unique force in world culture. In the past couple of decades, it has grown into an energetic and confident community of over 31 million that has given India a presence in many parts of the world. You are respected members of the country you live in and are also leaders of the Indian community. It gives us great pride when the Overseas Indian community is respected for its work culture, discipline, successful integration with the local community and for its outstanding contributions in their countries of residence. A successful, prosperous and politically influential diaspora is an asset to India, much as a strong and self-reliant India would be a source of strength and inspiration for the diaspora. This synergy acts as a vibrant bridge between us and builds our relationship.

5. The Government has been working closely with the diaspora to leverage each other’s strengths to mutual benefit. The Prime Minister himself has taken the lead in reaching out to the Overseas Indian community and engaging you. EAM held a video conference PBD with the diaspora across continents earlier this year. It has been a mutually rewarding and satisfying partnership. I believe you have the insights, perspectives and the extensive links that can make this partnership flourish. Your motherland is always with you.

6. The coronavirus pandemic brought shock and uncertainty to every level of interaction, whether it is individual, community, national or global; and to every segment of our economy and society. Its scale and impact make it perhaps the most tumultuous and significant event of this century. Very little may remain unaffected and we shall have to move towards a new normal. As human beings, we need to engage, communicate and share such that the change is manageable and conducive and in line with our aspirations.

7. You are aware that India took early action to combat corona virus. starting with travel restrictions in late January, airport screening in early February and travel ban in mid March, we moved into a nationwide lockdown in late March. The high value attached to human life shaped our approach. PM was in constant touch with the people throughout the process. The response developed into defining red, orange and green zones and now for containment zones within red zones. Meanwhile, we ramped up our healthcare preparedness, testing over a lakh people daily, contact tracing and more targeted steps. The virus has certainly slowed down, the doubling rate has increased to 14 days at present, compared to 3 days initially and the recovery rate has increased significantly. The contagion continues to grow but its rampant spread has been checked and will be overcome in due course.

8. On the diplomatic front, India has been actively engaged through the new medium of virtual contacts on phone and video. Hon. Prime Minister and EAM have had discussions with their counterparts in various countries not only to share experiences of coronavirus and ways to deal with it but also to develop a positive agenda for the post Covid-19 period. We have engaged to give new momentum to regional and plurilateral groupings such as SAARC, BRICS, G-20 as well as in UN agencies. Bilaterally, EAM has even held Joint Commission meetings and we are preparing for a Summit meeting soon. These exchanges have also helped shape informed and coordinated responses to the coronavirus pandemic, such as evacuation of stranded nationals from each other’s territories; maintenance of critical supplies of life-saving medicines and food; extension and facilitation of visas for each other’s nationals; and sharing of best practices by partner countries.

9. We were aware of the inconvenience faced by many Indians who were stranded abroad, while India was in lockdown. In a sense, all Indians, abroad and at home were collectively fighting the virus. We launched the Vande Bharat Mission from May 7, 2020, a massive, whole-of-Government effort to respond to your needs. The Vande Bharat Mission is the largest and most complex exercise ever undertaken by the Government for the repatriation of our nationals stranded overseas. We are working very closely with the Ministries of Civil Aviation, Home Affairs, Health and Family Welfare as well as concerned State Governments in this exercise. The first phase saw 64 flights and deployment of naval ships to bring back nearly 15000 of our nationals from 12 countries. The second phase of Vande Bharat Mission from 16 May expands operations to 49 countries having Air India operations through increased frequency of flights and more feeder flight to Indian cities. We hope to bring back close to 1 lakh persons by the end of this phase. We have also started the return of deportees, amnesty beneficiaries and charter flights organised by companies for their workers as well as by community associations in different countries. I must share with you that during this period of difficulty, the diaspora across the world has been at the forefront in helping their stranded brothers and sisters by providing food and shelter, counselling, and in many other ways. Big thank you to all of you for making Vasudaiva Kutumbakam a reality.

10. As you are aware, government has now relaxed certain categories of OCIs from the suspension of visa facilities to India and thus stranded OCI card holders can return to India; the guidelines were issued on 22 May. We have also extended the date for re-issuance of OCI card from 30 June 2020 to 31 December 2020. Please contact your Embassy at the earliest opportunity.

11. The cornavirus pandemic has disrupted not only social interaction but also economic activities. The cumulative loss from the pandemic in the range of $ 6-9 trillion or approximately 6.5-9.7% of the global GDP. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts a 3% contraction of the world economy in 2020. This is the largest contraction of global output since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The slowdown will impact all sectors of the economy. Global poverty and unemployment levels will rise. Expatriate workforces will be impacted.

12. The pandemic is already creating a new normal; one with tightened global financial market conditions, behavioral changes and altered consumption patterns, search for new demand and supply chains. It has also exposed the gaps in our systems, forcing us to identify the loopholes, regroup, reform and reinvent. This reinvention of the global economic order is something that we all must prepare ourselves for. The key to this will be strong multilateral cooperation, an area in which India will play its due role.

13. In his address to the nation, the Prime Minister identified five key pillars of our future economic roadmap. These are creating a new economy, state of the art infrastructure, technology based delivery systems, leveraging our youthful demography and harnessing domestic demand. This calls for innovation and efficiency to make the best products and improving supply chains.

14. The New Deal for Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan, a resilient India, totals Rs 20 lakh crores, almost 10% of our GDP. It will focus on land, labour, liquidity and laws. Successful integration and assimilation of all these factors will be crucial to achieve a quantum jump in our overall growth and development. It involves fiscal stimulus by the government, monetary and liquidity measures by RBI, market access to agriculture, support to MSMEs and other incentives. The package is one of empowerment, especially of those in the informal sector. The crisis of the pandemic brings an opportunity to not only realise our dream but also our responsibility.

15. In India, we were formulating a strategy which would position India as an alternate manufacturing destination of choice for global investors. The idea behind this initiative was to enable manufacturing and trading companies looking to diversify and de-risk their value chains to choose India as an alternate location for their operations. To speed this up, we are looking to address several bottlenecks and usher in reforms which would make Indian industries competitive and help them match up to the global standards of production. IT and IT enabled services have been the strong points of the Indian services sector. Innovation, low labor costs and a vibrant demography have also been the key strengths of the Indian economy. Our reputation as the pharmacy of the world and the source of low-cost generics and drugs is lost on no one. Agri-based food processing, textiles, automobiles, electronics are some of the fastest growing industries in our economy. These new policies will open a large part of the previously restricted economic sectors to participation of private sector. The fundamental reforms in agriculture will empower our farmers, enable their integration in global agri-product value chains and significantly contribute to our national vision of doubling income of farmers by 2022. Building on our strengths and enhancing our potential is, therefore, the key to our economic revival and growth, as well as, to positioning ourselves as the low-cost and efficient manufacturing destination of the world.

16. The idea behind self-reliance or Aatmanirbharta is not to turn the country inwards, or into an isolationist country, but to the contrary, it is to ensure that India can emerge as the global nerve centre of the complex modern multinational supply chains. As External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar noted: "Foreign policy begins at home. A strong economy allows us to be heard in the world. A self-reliant India will have more to offer to the world”.

17. Our initial assessment, based on inputs from our Missions, reveals that:

a) Our record of managing the pandemic of this scale with decisive and early steps – and a low per capita incidence and death rate – has drawn favourable international attention to our resolve and capabilities. These are critical elements in helping brand India’s disaster management and regional and global first responder capabilities.

b) India has acted as the "pharmacy of the world” and healthcare supplier to all parts of the globe. India has the ability to be a bridge between the developed and developing world and facilitating a two-way flow of information, products and expertise. There is growing interest in yoga and Ayurveda.

c) There is a significant market for food, agricultural products and food-processing industries. Indian automobiles, particularly low-cost automobiles, including 2 and 3-wheelers will have an augmented market in developing countries. Textiles, garments and consumer durable industries will have export opportunities as many markets look to diversify their sources of supply.

d) Indian e-commerce, IT and IT enabled service industries have demonstrated that they can work through a crisis of this magnitude. These are obviously the businesses of the future. Digital highways can be used to leverage our higher education capabilities through tele-education onto a much larger market.

e) A major economic opportunity for India will arise from the drive to diversify global supply chains. The attractions of investing in India are obvious. It is a major opportunity and needs to be grasped.

18. My own assessment is India will remain one of the fastest growing economies in post-Covid-19 scenario and economic growth will gain momentum in the medium to long-term. A few initiatives are noteworthy:

a) External commitments: Connectivity initiatives in the neighborhood under our Lines of Credits can act as force multipliers to accelerate regional growth and development, promote people-to-people contact and encourage trade and commerce. Our companies should participate in projects financed under Indian development assistance. These projects help successfully showcase India’s expertise and assist Indian industry.

b) Securing migrants going abroad: The pandemic has highlighted the fragility they endure and global shortage of trained personnel in various sectors, especially health care and digital. India has the edge in these areas. We are working with partners to ease mobility and build secure environment through bilateral Migration and Mobility Partnerships and Social Security Agreements. Further, integration of migration platforms with GCC countries will facilitate orderly migration of workers.

c) Promoting and leveraging skills: We are sharing details of skill sets of Indian expatriates returning under the Vande Bharat Mission with the Ministry of Skill Development and State Governments to facilitate the rehabilitation of returning workers, seek employment in public and private sectors and even explore remigration to new destinations.

d) 3Ts – Trade, Tourism and Technology: This includes efforts to diversify our supply chains, promote foreign investment flows, and boost Indian exports. Growth in tourism in the current scenario may take some time, but there are opportunities for promotion of virtual, medical and AYUSH tourism. Identification and promotion of frontline technologies, linking our start-ups with the foreign markets, their registration on foreign stock exchanges etc. will be important enablers of innovation and economic growth.

e) Atmanirbharta and global leadership: The pandemic has confirmed the need for higher level of domestic manufacture, especially in strategic and basic needs areas. We thus have to strengthen our healthcare infrastructure and systems in India. This will include training of professionals, ramping up pharma capacity, promoting R&D and becoming a global leader. Similarly, we have to proactively develop export markets for agricultural products, develop supply and cold chain and become a global player in food security. Similarly, global energy partnerships, especially in renewable energy, clean-tech, energy efficiency, and petroleum and natural gas will play an important role in economic recovery. Initiatives like International Solar Alliance and execution of solar energy projects in other countries under the Line of Credit of $ 1.6 billion can enhance India's international presence in new and renewable energy sector. India has the potential to emerge as the preferred destination for higher learning. The Study in India initiative to help facilitate the foreign students to study in about 150 educational institutions in the public and private sector.

19. I thank all the delegates who have joined us in this dialogue today from far corners of the globe. I look forward to hearing your views and ideas to address issues of concern to you and help enhance the quality of your engagement with India. The doors of the Ministry of External Affairs are always open to you all. We would welcome your new ideas and suggestions on how we can work closely together.

Thank You.
Jai Hind.
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