Geneva: In a major boost to its diplomatic push for NSG membership, India today managed to win crucial support of Switzerland ahead of a key meeting of the 48-nation bloc even as the two countries agreed to step up cooperation in unearthing black money stashed by Indians in Swiss banks.
Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann announced his country’s support to India’s membership in the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) after holding comprehensive talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a range of bilateral and global issues.
Switzerland is a key member of the NSG and its support to India’s bid for membership of the elite grouping was seen as crucial in the backdrop of China harping on the need for consensus as India was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
“We have promised India support in its efforts to become a member of NSG,” Schneider-Ammann said at a joint media interaction with Modi. In his remarks, the Prime Minister thanked the Swiss President for Switzerland’s “understanding and support” for India’s membership of the NSG. He also said combating the menace of black money and tax evasion was “shared priority” for both the countries.
The US and many other NSG member countries have supported India’s inclusion based on its non-proliferation track record. The NSG works under the principle of unanimity and even one country’s vote against India will scuttle its bid. India has been pushing for membership of the bloc for last few years and had formally moved its application on May 12 which will be taken up for consideration in its plenary meetings on June 9 in Vienna and June 24 in Seoul.
The NSG looks after critical issues relating to the nuclear sector and its members are allowed to trade in and export nuclear technology. Its membership will help India significantly expand its atomic energy sector. The Prime Minister is likely to raise the issue with the leadership of Mexico, another key member of the NSG. India has stepped up its diplomatic outreach to various NSG member countries including China ahead of the group’s crucial meetings.
The NSG had granted an exclusive waiver for India in 2008 to access civil nuclear technology after China reluctantly backed India’s case based on the Indo-US nuclear deal. The Swiss President said his country will “certainly contribute actively” to India’s effort to get NSG membership and hailed India’s contribution to non-proliferation of nuclear arms.
During the talks, Modi and Schneider-Ammann agreed to expand cooperation in tackling the problem of Indians stashing blackmoney in Swiss banks besides resolving to step up ties in areas of trade, investment and vocational training. He also said both the sides agreed to support each other for their respective bids for the non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
“We discussed the need for an early and expeditious exchange of information to bring to justice the tax offenders. An early start to negotiations on the agreement on the automatic exchange of information would be important in this respect,” Modi said. On his part, the Swiss President said both the countries are making considerable progress in fighting tax fraud and evasion.
Indian tax authorities are probing cases of tax evasion and black money stashed abroad. The probe had gained momentum after a leaked list of hundreds of Indian clients of HSBC’s Geneva branch found its way to the Indian tax authorities. Last month, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said India had signed an agreement with Switzerland and received details of those people having accounts in HSBC.
“We completed assessment of those people who had accounts in HSBC, Switzerland. We assessed Rs 6,000 crore black money which was in HSBC. We filed criminal cases against them,” he had said. The Prime Minister said India has affirmed its readiness to resume talks on a free trade agreement with European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
The trade talks between India and EFTA — the grouping of Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein — have been stalled on a host of issues like Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and data safety. The negotiations for the FTA were launched in 2008. “We are all aware of the strengths of the Swiss economy. But, India too is undergoing profound transformations. We are today the fastest growing economy in the world. But, that alone is not enough.
“I want the Indian economy to be driven by smart and sustainable cities, robust farm sector, vibrant manufacturing and dynamic service sector. And, its engines to run on world class network of rail, roads, airports and digital connectivity,” Modi said.
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