By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippine government is still interested in establishing trade relations with India on cheap medicine and President Duterte may have the opportunity to raise the issue when he visits New Delhi next week.
Duterte will be visiting India for the first time from January 24 to 26 to attend the India-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Commemorative Summit.
DFA Assistant Secretary Hellendela Vega said the Philippine government’s interest on India’s pharmaceutical industry is in the agenda.
Dela Vega said that cooperation between India and ASEAN on India’s cheap medicine may be discussed at the leaders’ level.
“When I mentioned about the cheaper medicine, I was also talking about it in the context of ASEAN, I mean, in terms of cooperation,” she said.
She added that the DFA is still waiting for confirmation if the President will have a bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi.
President Duterte first raised interest on India’s cheap medicine during his bilateral meeting with Modi at the sidelines of the 31st ASEAN Summit which the Philippines hosted in November, 2017.
“We want to discuss trade relations further and especially, the most important one is that – I’m happy that you’re here because we can’t find the medicines, and you have it [in] India [where] people can really afford to buy it,” Duterte said.
He said there might be Indian investors who may be interested in seeking a business venture in the Philippines in producing more affordable medicines.
“We would [be] happy to see you building an investment that would include the medicines,” Duterte said.
“I’m more interested, really, in the medicines because we are a poor country,” he added.
“And if there is an investor that could be interested, an Indian citizen of yours who would want to venture in our place, we would be happy,” he continued.
According to Dela Vega, the 10 ASEAN leaders will be welcomed by Indian President Ram NathKovind during lunch on January 25, the day after President Duterte’s arrival in New Delhi.
Also scheduled on January 25 is the release of the ASEAN-India commemorative stamps. Each ASEAN leader will receive one, Dela Vega said.
Meanwhile, the summit proper will consist of two sessions – the retreat session and the plenary session.
The retreat session will focus on maritime cooperation while the plenary session is expected to discuss regional and international issues as well as the future course of ASEAN-India relations under the overall summit theme of “Shared Values and Common Destiny.”
Capping the summit is a cultural program and banquet to be hosted by Modi in honor of the ASEAN leaders during the same evening.
Dela Vega said that an outcome document called the Delhi Declaration is also expected to be released in conjunction with the Summit.
The Delhi Declaration serves as a roadmap for cooperation between ASEAN and India which may also discuss how to substantiate political, economic and cultural cooperation.
Dela Vega said India has been an important dialogue partner of the ASEAN since 1992. Under the ASEAN-India plan of action, trade and investment, connectivity, agriculture, tourism, culture, science and technology, and climate change are among the priority areas of cooperation.
India also remains as one of ASEAN’s top trading partners in 2016, with total trade volume amounting to $58.45 billion. It also ranked as the seventh largest source of foreign direct investments with inflows from India to ASEAN recorded at nearly US$1.5 billion.
Meanwhile, the ASEAN leaders will also grace India’s 69th Republic Day as the chief guests.
This year, the Indian government made the 10 ASEAN leaders the chief guests for the annual celebration which is capped by a grand parade on the 26th day of January of every year.
“For 2018, India has decided to invite all 10 leaders of ASEAN. So that demonstrates the importance that India attaches to ASEAN,”Dela Vega said.
This is the first time that India is going to have 10 chief guests to grace its Republic Day since they first celebrated it in 1949.
Republic Day is celebrated to remember India’s liberation from the British Rule and the coming of its own constitution into force.
According to Dela Vega, India has had the following chief guests: Queen Elizabeth II in 1961, South African President Nelson Mandela in 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2014, and United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2017.