Sushma Swaraj to attend first India-Central Asia Dialogue

Continuing with increasing engagements with Central Asia, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will attend the first-ever India-Central Asia Dialogue to be held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on January 12-13, it was announced on Wednesday. According to a statement issued by the External Affairs Ministry, Sushma Swaraj will co-chair the Dialogue along with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov. While the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan will participate in the Dialogue as a special invitee for a session dedicated to connectivity issues in the region, the Foreign Ministers of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan and the First Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan will represent their respective countries. “Bound together through shared history and cultural linkages, India and the Central Asian states look forward to the Dialogue as an important initiative to enhance their cooperation in wide-ranging spheres including exploring ways to substantially enhance India’s economic involvement in business and development sector of Central Asia,” the statement said. “With the participation of Afghanistan, the participants of the Dialogue will also deliberate on developing viable connectivity options between India and Afghanistan and Central Asia to further facilitate trade and economic activity in the region.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited all the five Central Asian countries in 2015 while Sushma Swaraj visited the region in August last. According to the Ministry statement, the India-Central Asia Dialogue, with the participation of Afghanistan, is expected to strengthen India’s engagement, including political, economic, development partnership and cultural, with all the Central Asian countries and take it to a new level. India is part of the 7,200-km International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a multimodal network of the ship, rail and road routes for moving freight between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia, and Europe. India, Iran, and Afghanistan are also jointly developing the Chabahar port on the southeastern coast of Iran that is going to be a vital link in the INSTC. New Delhi is investing $500 million to develop it and a road link from there to Afghanistan to give access to that country, bypassing Pakistan.

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Future of Consumption in Fast-Growth Consumer Markets: India

This report sheds light on one of the fastest growing economies in the world – India. By 2030, India will see a tremendous jump in consumer spending driven by increased incomes, a billion diverse internet users and a very young population. The new Indian consumer will be more affluent, and more willing to spend but will have more evolved preferences and aspirations than consumers of the past.

Highlights of the report:

As per the report, domestic private consumption, that accounts for a major portion of India’s gross domestic product (GDP), is expected to develop into a $6 trillion growth opportunity that would make India the world’s third-largest economy by 2030. Currently, it is at $1.5 trillion.

The potential, however, offers both challenges and opportunities as India would have to address critical societal issues, including skill development and employment of the future workforce, socio-economic inclusion of rural India and creating a healthy and sustainable future for its citizens.

If realized, this would make India’s consumer market, the third-largest in the world, behind the U.S. and China.

The future of consumption in India in 2030 is anchored in rising incomes and a broad-based pattern of growth and benefit sharing.

The growth of the middle class would lift nearly 25 million households out of poverty and further, India would have 700 million millennials and Gen Z consumers, who have grown up in a more open and confident country.

The potential would only materialize if business and policy-makers pursue an inclusive approach towards the economic and consumption growth. The study identified three critical societal challenges that need to be addressed.

With nearly 10-12 million working-age people expected to emerge in India over the next decade, the country faces a huge challenge in providing the workforce with the right skills. More than one-half of Indian workers will require reskilling by 2022 to meet the talent demands of the future, stated the report.

India will have to manage the socio-economic inclusion of rural India as, by 2030, 40% of Indians will be urban residents. Physical connectivity, digital connectivity, and financial inclusion income are constraining the spending and well-being of rural dwellers, and these ‘access-barriers’ need to be addressed to ensure social and economic inclusion in India over the next decade.

Business and policy-makers will have to take the initiative on improving health and liveability for India’s citizens by providing them with access to affordable healthcare, promoting sustainable development, and seeking solutions to urban congestion.

World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a Swiss nonprofit foundation, based in Cologny, Geneva. Recognized by the Swiss authorities as the international institution for public-private cooperation, its mission is cited as “committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas”. The Forum is best known for its annual winter meeting for five days in Davos, a mountain resort in Graubünden, in the eastern Alps region of Switzerland. The meeting brings together some 2,500 top business leaders, international political leaders, selected intellectuals, and journalists for up to five days (winter) to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world. The concept was in the news recently. To know why it was in the click the above link titled ‘Related News’.

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7th round of India – South Korea CEPA negotiations held

The 7th round of India – South Korea Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) negotiations were held inSouth Korea between 11-13 December 2018.

The discussions were positive and subject to Indian sugar industry meeting the quality standards and specifications prescribed by the South Korean Government.


South Korea imports around 15 lac tones of raw sugar annually and the Indian sugar industry is making efforts to export raw sugar from India during 2018-19 sugar seasons.

India and South Korea will reduce duties on 11 tariff lines in a bid to expand bilateral trade by updating their existing free-trade agreement, called the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).

In 2017-18, India exported goods worth $4.4 billion to South Korea while imports from the latter were worth $16.3 billion.

Difference between CECA and CEPA

CECA – Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement

CEPA – Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement

The major “technical” difference between a CECA and CEPA is that CECA involve only “tariff reduction/elimination in a phased manner on listed/all items except the negative list and tariff rate quota (TRQ) items. CEPA also covers the trade in services and investment and other areas of economic partnership”.

So CEPA is a wider term that CECA and has the widest coverage.

Usually, CECA is signed first with a country and after that negotiations may start for a CEPA.

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UNESCO adds Jamaican reggae, Georgian wrestling and Japanese rituals to ‘intangible heritage’ list


The Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage is meeting until December 1 in Mauritius, inscribing new elements to its much coveted-list.

Japan’s Raiho-shin rituals, used to admonish laziness and teach children good behavior, was another winner. Stemming from folk beliefs that deities visit communities and usher in the new year or season, local people dress in outlandish costumes and visit houses as deities.

Practiced across many areas of Jordan, As-Samer, another new inscription, consists mainly of dancing and singing. Performed on various occasions, most commonly during weddings, UNESCO explained that poetry forms an integral part of the tradition, “expressing feelings of joy, peace, intimacy, and empathy” among those in attendance.

A historic joint bid was made by both Koreas, to include traditional Korean wrestling known as ssirum/ssireum. Fundamentally linked to land and agriculture, UNESCO’s chief was instrumental in persuading North and South to combine cultural forces, embracing both a national sport and a very popular cultural practice.

With the aim of ensuring better protection of important intangible cultural heritage across the world and in order to create awareness of their significance, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) based in Paris (UNESCO) established the intangible cultural heritage list.  UNESCO General Conference adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage as an international treaty acknowledging that cultural heritage is more than tangible objects, monuments, and places. It also encompasses living expressions and traditions. Intangible cultural heritage means the skills, knowledge, expressions, representations, practices – as well as the artifacts, objects, instruments, and cultural spaces associated with them that various groups, communities and in certain cases individuals recognize as a part of their cultural heritage. This list is published by the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Its members are elected by State parties meeting in the United Nations General Assembly. It aims at drawing attention to the importance of safeguarding the cultural heritage and is a repository of cultural diversity and creative expression.

India, known for its heritage and cultural diversity has 13 cultural heritages in the UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list. “Kumbh Mela” was the latest addition to the list. Kumbh Mela was inscribed on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during the 12th session held at Jeju, South Korea.

UNESCO intangible cultural heritage from India

  • Koodiyattam – a Sanskrit theatrical tradition practiced in a province of Kerala, traditionally performed in theatres called as Kuttampalams located in the Hindu temples.
  • Vedic Chanting – the tradition of Vedic chanting, chanted during sacred rituals and recited daily by the Vedic communities known not only for the rich content of its oral literature but also for the ingenious techniques employed by the Brahmin priests.
  • Ramlila – The traditional performance of Ramayana performed across North India during the festival of Dussehra. Most representatives are those performed in Sattna, Vrindavan, Varanasi, and Ramnagar.
  • Ramman – A religious festival in honor of the tutelary god, Bhumiyal Devta practiced in the villages of Saloor-Dungra in the state of Uttarakhand. Each of the caste and occupational groups has distinct roles in the festival.
  • Mudiyett – A ritual dance drama from the state of Kerala based on a mythological tale of the battle between Darika – the demon and goddess Kali.
  • Kalbelia – A folk song and dance form of Rajasthan. ‘Khanjari’ percussion instrument and the ‘Poongi’, a woodwind instrument are used during the performance. Kalbelia songs disseminate mythological knowledge through stories. At times, the lyrics are spontaneously composed and improvised during the performance.
  • Chhau Dance – A tradition from eastern India that enacts episodes from epics including the Mahabharata and Ramayana, local folklore and abstract themes. It is closely connected to the regional festivals specifically the Chaitra Parva.
  • Buddhist Chanting – The sacred texts chanted by the Buddhist lamas (priests) in the Ladakh region. Each of the Buddhist sects has several forms of chanting.
  • Sankirtana – Includes a set of arts performed to mark religious occasions and various stages in the life of the Vaishnava people of the Manipur plains.
  • Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making – The craft of the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru constitute the traditional technique of manufacturing brass and copper utensils in Punjab.
  • Yoga – The art of unifying the mind with body and soul for greater spiritual, mental and physical well-being. It consists of a series of poses, meditation, controlled breathing, word chanting etc.
  • Nawrouz – The Persian New year celebrated worldwide. It involves street performances of music and dance, public rituals involving water and fire, traditional sports and the making of handicrafts.
  • Kumbh Mela – The festival of a sacred pitcher where the pilgrims bathe or take a dip in the sacred river. It is one of the largest human congregations in the world. It is held in four pilgrimage places on the sacred rivers in Haridwar, Ujjain, Nashik, and Prayag.
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Cabinet nod for opening up of Solar Alliance to all UN countries

The Union Cabinet gave its approval for moving a resolution in the first assembly of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) to amend the framework agreement of the alliance to open up its membership to all UN countries.

The decision was taken to put solar energy on the global agenda with the universal appeal for developing and deploying solar energy.

The Cabinet also apprised of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with Russia on October 5.

The MoUs/ MoCs provide a platform for Indian Railways to interact and share the latest developments and knowledge in the railway sector. They will also facilitate exchange of technical experts, reports and technical documents, training and seminars/ workshops focusing on specific technology areas and other interactions for knowledge sharing.

To strengthen cooperation in the field of tourism, the Cabinet approved signing of an MoU between India and Korea. The aim is to expand bilateral cooperation in the tourism sector and to encourage investment in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

About ISA:

The ISA is an Indian initiative, jointly launched by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the president of France on 30 November 2015 in Paris, on the sidelines of COP-21, the UN climate conference. It aims at addressing obstacles to deployment at scale of solar energy through better harmonization and aggregation of demand from solar rich countries lying fully or partially between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

The ISA, headquartered in India, has its secretariat located in the campus of the National Institute of Solar Energy, Gurgaon, Haryana.

The Paris Declaration, establishing the ISA, states that the countries share the collective ambition to undertake innovative and concerted efforts for reducing the cost of finance and cost of technology for immediate deployment solar generation assets.

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3rd Decadal International year of Reefs-2018

The International Conference on Status and Protection of Coral Reefs (STAPCOR – 2018) with the theme “Reef for Life” was inaugurated by the Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Dr. Harsh Vardhan on 22nd October at Bangaram coral Island of Union Territory of Lakshadweep.

The effect of climate change and global warming along with El-Nino on the corals has to lead to heavy bleaching internationally during the year 1998. This led to the foundation of STAPCOR with a decision to have an international conference in every 10 years to review the status and progress of coral reefs all over the world.

The goals of the 3rd IYOR – 2018 are to:

  • Strengthen awareness about the ecological, economic, social and cultural value of coral reefs and associated ecosystems.
  • Improve understanding of the critical threats to reefs and generate both practical and innovative solutions to reduce these threats.
  • Generate urgent action to develop and implement effective management strategies for conservation and sustainable use of these ecosystems.

The first IYOR was designated in 1997 in response to the increasing threats on coral reefs and associated ecosystems. The hope was to increase awareness of the value of and threats to coral reefs and to promote conservation, research, and management efforts on a global scale.

Corals are invertebrates belonging to a large group of colorful and fascinating animals called Cnidarians. Other animals in this group include jellyfish and sea anemones. Each individual coral animal is called a polyp, and most live in groups of hundreds to thousands of genetically identical polyps that form a ‘colony’. The colony is created by a process called budding, where the original polyp literally grows copies of itself.

Corals are generally classified as either “hard” or “soft”. There are around 800 known species of hard coral, also known as ‘reef-building’ or scleractinian corals. Soft corals, or octocorals, which include seas fans, sea feathers, and sea whips, don’t have the rock-like calcareous skeleton, instead, they grow wood-like cores for support and fleshy rinds for protection.

Soft corals also live in colonies, that often resemble brightly colored plants or trees, and are easy to tell apart from hard corals as their polyps have tentacles that occur in multiples of 8, and have a distinctive feathery appearance. Soft corals are found in oceans from the equator to the north and south poles, generally in caves or on ledges. Here, they hang down in order to capture food floating by in the currents.

Coral reefs have evolved on earth over the past 200 to 300 million years, and have developed a unique and highly evolved form of symbiosis. Coral polyps have developed this relationship with tiny single-celled algae known as zooxanthellae. Inside the tissues of each coral, polyp lives these zooxanthellae, sharing space and nutrients.

This symbiosis between plant and animal also contributes to the brilliant colors of coral that can be seen while diving on a reef. It is the importance of light that drives corals to compete for space on the sea floor, and so constantly pushes the limits of their physiological tolerances in a competitive environment among so many different species. However, it also makes corals highly susceptible to environmental stress.

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Financial action team finalises report with recommendations for de-listing Pak from grey list

After an on-site assessment of the steps taken by Pakistan to curb terror financing and money laundering, a visiting Financial Action Task Force (FATF) team has finalized a report with 40 recommendations for de-listing Islamabad from its grey list from September next year, according to a media report.

The 40 recommendations are segregated in 11 outcomes performance benchmarks. Pakistan is compliant in more than 50% of the recommendations.

Pakistan was placed on the grey list by the FATF in June for failing to curb anti-terror financing. It has been scrambling in recent months to avoid being added to a list of countries deemed non-compliant with anti-money laundering and terrorist financing regulations by the Paris-based FATF, a measure that officials here fear could further hurt its economy.

About FATF:

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an inter-governmental body established in 1989 on the initiative of the G7.  It is a “policy-making body” which works to generate the necessary political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in various areas. The FATF Secretariat is housed at the OECD headquarters in Paris.


The objectives of the FATF are to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.

The FATF monitors the progress of its members in implementing necessary measures, reviews money laundering and terrorist financing techniques and counter-measures, and promotes the adoption and implementation of appropriate measures globally.  In collaboration with other international stakeholders, the FATF works to identify national-level vulnerabilities with the aim of protecting the international financial system from misuse.

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Singapore Hosts 12th ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting and 5th ADMM-Plus

India has continued to reiterate its stand on terrorism and would not hesitate to take the strongest measures if required, warns Indian Defence Minister, in a veiled reference to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan.

The 12th ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) and 5th ADMM-Plus were held on October 19 and 20, 2018 Singapore. ADMM and ADMM-Plus serve as key Ministerial-level platforms in regional security architecture for promoting strategic dialogue and practical cooperation between ASEAN  and its partners. The conferences were attended by defense ministers from India, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, and the US.  India was represented by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. This was the second time Singapore has chaired ADMM since its establishment in 2006 and first time to chair ADMM-Plus since its establishment in 2010. The theme of this year’s dialogue was ‘Strengthening Cooperation, Building Resilience’.

ADMM and ADMM-Plus serve as key Ministerial-level platforms in regional security architecture for promoting strategic dialogue and practical cooperation between ASEAN and its partners.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand, with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) by the Founding Fathers of ASEAN, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

At present, there are 10 members namely, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

The motto of ASEAN is “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”.


ADMM-Plus is a platform for ASEAN and it is eight dialogue partners to strengthen security and defense co-operation for peace, stability, and development in the region. Its objective is to promote mutual trust and confidence between defense establishments through greater dialogue and transparency.

The inaugural ADMM-Plus was convened in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2010. The defense ministers then had agreed on five areas of practical cooperation, including maritime security, counter-terrorism, peacekeeping operations, and humanitarian assistance.

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ESIC wins ‘ISSA GOOD Practice Award, Asia & the Pacific 2018’

The Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) has won the ‘ISSA Good Practice Award’ for Administrative Solution for Coverage Extension at the “Regional Social Security Forum for Asia and the Pacific” held at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia recently.

The award recognizes the measures taken by ESIC for extension of coverage-SPREE (Scheme for Promoting Registration of Employers and Employees), reduced rate of contribution rates for 24 months in newly implemented areas and raising the wage limit for coverage under the ESI Act, etc.

About the International Social Security Association:

  • The ISSA is the principal international organization for Social Security Organizations, Govts. and Departments of Social Security.
  • The ISSA was founded in 1927 under the auspices of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Geneva.
  • It promotes excellence in social security administration through professional guidelines, expert knowledge, services, and support to enable its Members to develop dynamic social security systems.
  • The ESI Corporation hosts ISSA Liaison Office for South Asia at New Delhi. The Liasion Office coordinates with the Member countries and Social Security Institutions in Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Iran on activities of ISSA related to social security.
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Shri Dharmendra Pradhan launches a Task Force for Closing the Skills Gap in India

Shri Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas & Skill Development and Entrepreneurship launched a Task Force for Closing the Skills Gap in India, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum.

The task force will bring together leaders from business, Government, civil society, and the education and training sectors to accelerate the future-proofing of education and training systems in the country. The Task Force is the second country-led public-private collaboration of the World Economic Forum’s Closing the Skills Gap Project after South Africa.

About closing the skills gap task force:

The task force will bring together leaders from business, government, civil society and the education and training sectors to accelerate the future-proofing of education and training systems in the country.

The goal of the Task Force is to develop an action plan to address skills gaps in India and make the Indian workforce ready for jobs of future.

With more than half of our population in the working age, skills development will be critical to sustaining inclusive growth and development in India.’ The “Closing the Skills Gap” task force will be a significant step to accelerate the impact on skills development already achieved by bringing together relevant stakeholders to act collectively.

Closing the Skills Gap Project by WEF:

The Closing the Skills Gap Project aims to create global and national platforms to address current skills gaps and to reshape education and training for the future. It works at three levels:

At the national level, the Closing the Skills Gap Task Forces provides a platform for multi-stakeholder collaboration to close the skills gap and prepare for the future of work. Each Closing the Skills Gap Task Force brings together leaders from business, government, civil society, and education and training sectors to accelerate reskilling and upskilling efforts in the current workforce and the future-proofing of national education and training systems.

At the global level, an informal Global Alliance for Closing the Skills Gap provides an exclusive global platform for leaders and experts from business, government, civil society, and the education and training sectors to build consensus, share ideas, and identify preferred models and best practices.

Global business commitments: With skilling, reskilling and upskilling becoming a clear “no-regret” move for addressing the flux in labour markets, there is a rapid movement of multinational businesses towards such efforts for their employees, communities and wider audience. Managed strategically, this can be impactful and a win-win for companies and workers alike. As a first step, the Forum is consolidating global business commitments with the goal to reach 10 million people by January 2020.

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