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India eyes free trade with Gulf countriesnews
29 May 2007

Mumbai: India and the six countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council are likely to conclude a free trade agreement in the near future, commerce minister Kamal Nath said.

India''s total trade with the six Gulf countries -- Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain -- has risen from $5.5 billion in 2000-01 to $23.42 billion in 2005-06.

During a meeting between Kamal Nath and the visiting UAE economy minister Shaikha Lubna Al-Qasimi the two underlined the strong partnership that India and UAE enjoy in the field of trade and commerce, although the partnership was still way below potential.

They expressed the hope that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-India Industrial Conference beginning in Mumbai "would promote a greater thrust to India''s economic cooperation with the Gulf region as a whole."

During the first meeting of India-UAE trade policy forum that followed the meeting, the two ministers discussed a range of issues on increasing level of trade between the two countries.

Nath referred to issues related to opening of branches of Indian banks in UAE, lifting of a ban on the import of poultry products and removal of trade barriers such as registration guidelines, restrictive work permits and visa regime regarding import of pharmaceuticals, chemicals and allied products. Anti-dumping measures on UAE products and companies and matters relating to successful establishment and implementation of the joint Alumina project in Orissa were also taken up by the UAE.

In 2005-06, trade between India and the UAE was at $12.9 billion. Indian exports to the UAE were valued at $8.59 billion and exports from the UAE to India were estimated at $4.31 billion during the period.

The UAE is India''s top trading partner in the Middle East/North Africa region. The UAE accounts for 75 per cent of India''s exports to the six GCC countries.

Nath will head the Indian delegation for the meeting between India and the GCC scheduled to begin in Mumbai. The Arab delegates are expected to focus on investment opportunities in India. The conference is titled: ''Gulf-India: Investment Opportunities''. Plenary sessions will focus on cooperation between India and the Gulf region in the field of energy, petrochemicals and infrastructure projects.

India''s desire to boost ties with Middle Eastern and Maghreb countries has also been marked by the recent visit of India''s external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee to Libya, which concluded on May 28.

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India eyes free trade with Gulf countries