July 2001 News

U.K. hails summit move

5 July 2001
The Hindu
Sushma Ramachandran

NEW DELHI: The United Kingdom has welcomed the initiative taken by India to convene a summit meeting with Pakistan and has expressed the hope that it will reduce tensions in the sub- continent. The issue was discussed today by the visiting British Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. John Prescott, with the Foreign Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, when he also handed over a letter from the U.K. Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, to the Prime Minister, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee. Mr. Prescott felt that the Indian Government has taken ``a number of initiatives'' to defuse tensions with Pakistan including the bus journey to Lahore. These were all welcome, he maintained, as these prevented creation of a war-like scenario between the two neighbours. The British Deputy Prime Minister, the first Minister of the newly-elected Blair Government to visit India, told The Hindu that strengthening bilateral ties with this country is considered important by his Government. This is the reason for a Ministerial visit coming so soon after the Labour Party was voted back to power. He said several bilateral issues, including the Indo- Pakistan summit and consequences of the British elections, were discussed with Mr. Jaswant Singh, and the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr. Brajesh Mishra. The key subject of the visit, however, is climate change as a prelude to next week's conference in Bonn. Mr. Prescott noted that India played an important role in the climate change negotiations as well as within the G-77 which has to ratify the Kyoto protocol. He would also be visiting China, which is the other key player, as well as Japan prior to the Bonn meeting. Asked about the decision of the U.S. President, Mr. George Bush, to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol, he said this is bound to affect negotiations since it means the elimination of a major player in the developed world. The British stance, Mr. Prescott clarified, is in favour of ratifying the protocol despite the withdrawal of the United States. At the same time, he felt there was ``some movement'' with the U.S. now deciding to carry out a review of the protocol. Even so, the parties to the protocol had to work within a framework and had to meet certain targets. This, he felt, should not be derailed as a result of the U.S. decision to opt out. On the investment climate in this country, Mr. Prescott stressed that U.K.-based companies have a long-term view of the Indian market and are seeking to establish their presence in areas which have opened up recently. For instance, negotiations are now being carried out by British companies in the insurance sector and there are several power utilities also engaged in projects. He felt the U.K. has a significant contribution to make in this country since it believes in a regulatory framework for liberalisation and is not in favour of completely eliminating Government's role in areas of public interest. Mr. Prescott, who also met the Power Minister, Mr. Suresh Prabhu, said the United Kingdom, which has undertaken large-scale privatisation programmes in the past, has faced dilemmas similar to the ones in this country regarding this process. In sectors such as power utilities where the public interest is involved, he said a fine balance must be maintained between the private sector's need for profitability and reasonable pricing. It is also difficult to work out a pricing mechanism to suit consumers' interests while attracting investment flows. The British authorities have been working on public-private partnerships to overcome this difficulty, he said. On proposals for a new trade negotiations round at the forthcoming World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial conference, he said the British Government is in favour of all measures to free global trade. He said every country has to take its own view but noted that there are numerous complex issues involved in the WTO negotiations including areas of human rights in countries such as China. Replying to a question on race relations in the U.K. as a fall- out of the recent race riots, he said it is a challenge for the community and is being taken very seriously by the Government. ``It's about housing, it's about economic development and it's about social justice which is what this Government is all about,'' Mr. Prescott said.

 

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