President to visit Papua New Guinea, New Zealand

New Delhi, April 25 (IANS) As part of India’s growing engagements with Pacific island nations, President Pranab Mukherjee will go on state visits to Papua New Guinea and New Zealand from April 28 to May 2.

This will be the first presidential visit from India to both these countries and also the first high-level visit from India to Papua New Guinea, Jaideep Mazumdar, joint secretary (South) in the ministry of external affairs, said at a pre-departure media briefing here on Monday.

Mukherjee will be accompanied by an official delegation that will include Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Sanjeev Balyan and a multi-party delegation of members of parliament.

Stating that the President was eagerly looking forward to his visit to Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, Venu Rajamony, press secretary to the President, said that Mukherjee saw the Pacific region as a natural extension of India’s immediate neighbourhood, which is southeast Asia.

“And with our Look East policy having evolved into an Act East policy, the Pacific region has gained in even greater salients in both our strategic thinking as well as our economic engagement,” he stated.

According to Mazumdar, in Papua New Guinea Mukherjee will hold meetings with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and other leaders.

Apart from the meeting leaders of the Pacific island nation, Mukherjee will also address a business event and an Indian community event.

“He will deliver a speech at the Papua New Guinea University,” Mazumdar said.

Papua New Guinea is the largest of the Pacific island countries with a populaion of eight million.

It is rich in oil and gas and India’s Petronet has a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Petromin of that country.

The country is also rich in minerals like nickel, cobalt and gold.

“Papua New Guinea is looking towards India for many of its development needs such as in the health sector, capacity building in information technology, agriculture and infrastructure development,” Mazumdar said, adding that a line of credit was being finalised for infrastructure projects to be executed by India.

Papua New Guinea is also home to around 2,500 Indians, including teachers, doctors and other professionals.

Agreements between India and Papua New Guinea under negotiation are in the areas of agriculture, IT, infrastructure financing and health, according to the joint secretary.

Mukherjee’s visit to New Zealand comes after then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit in 1986.

During his visit, Mukherjee will hold meetings with Governor General Jerry Mateparae, Prime Minister John Key and Leader of Opposition Andrew Little.

The President will address a gathering of top New Zealand businessmen as well as an Indian community at an event.

There are around 175,000 persons of Indian origin (PIOs) and Indian nationals in New Zealand and they constitute the largest group of skilled migrants.

There are around 43,000 Indian students in New Zealand and in last year alone, 23,000 Indian students left to study in institutions there.

Mukherjee will also address the students and faculty of the Auckland University of Technology.

Mazumdar said that apart from the strengths in agriculture and dairy farming that New Zealand brings, the country has certain unique high technology skills and strengths as well.

“Many of the security systems that we use, whether it is in the Indian parliament or it is Hindustan Aeronautics or ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) or several other applications are developed and installed by a New Zealand company,” Mazumdar said.

“Agreements and MoUs (memorandum of understandings) in the field of air connectivity and education are expected to be signed during the visit,” the joint secretary said.

–IANS

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