Pranab seeks to double trade with Africa

24 Mar 2009


Saying that trade between India and Africa could easily double in the next five years to reach $70 billion, external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee told a business gathering that India and Africa should join hands confront international terrorism, hunger, poverty and global warming, and evolve new frameworks for global institutions.

Speaking at the India-Africa Project Conclave organised by the Confederation of Indian Industries and Exim Bank today, Mukherjee said India is currently investing $500 million in several projects in Africa.

Ministers from 12 African nations - Mauritius, Burkina Faso, Cote d'lvoire, Botswana, Mozambique, Sudan, Comoros, Togo, Congo, Uganda and Central African Republic – are in New Delhi for the two-day conclave along with hundreds of other African delegates.

Mukherjee assured the African leaders that India was favourably considering the request of some African countries to set up diamond cutting and polishing institutes in that continent for training their personnel. India is the world's largest importer of rough diamonds, most of which are sourced from Africa. It is also an exporter of cut and polished diamonds.

The African leaders called for boosting investments in agriculture, mining, power, agro-processing, irrigation, pharmaceuticals, IT, health, retail chain and small and medium scale sector for generating employment.

Addressing the meeting, minister of state for external affairs Anand Sharma said the ongoing economic crisis could be a blessing in disguise for both India and Africa, allowing them expand bilateral trade.

He said the India-Africa trade volume had increased seven-fold in the last six years, from $5 billion in 2001-02 to $36 billion in 2007-08, but it was still far below potential, with only eight per cent of Indian exports destined for Africa.

India has signed trade agreements with 30 African countries, the minister said, adding that the country was also exploring the possibility of comprehensive trade pacts with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), comprising Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi.

Sharma said that one of India's focus areas for future cooperation was capacity-building in Africa through educational and skill-building programmes. Besides, India's pharmaceuticals industry could play a crucial role in helping with the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the continent.

Indian companies are already active in the drug market in Africa and the generic drugs have drastically brought down the prices of essential drugs over there, Sharma said. He, however, warned that multinational companies were trying to pressurise countries to expand the definition of generic drugs beyond the scope of the TRIPS agreement.

''The concept of generic must not be mistaken with counterfeit or pirated,'' said Sharma.

He pointed out that India's ambitious e-network project, which aims to link leading universities and hospitals in the country with their counterparts in 11 African nations via satellite, was launched earlier this month. ''The 21st century should be one of a resurgent India and a vibrant and confident Africa,'' he said.

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