The visit to Tunisia will be the first bilateral visit ever by an Indian Foreign Minister

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid will embark on a week-long trip on Thursday to Morocco, Tunisia and Sudan. India has substantial economic interests in all the three countries linked to its food and energy security.

The visit to the region comes after Indian participation in the Geneva II Conference on Syria and follows the recent visits of Prime Minister of Kuwait, foreign ministers of Egypt and the UAE and the Secretary General of the Arab League to New Delhi, “all indicative of the enhanced interaction between India and key Arab countries of the Middle East,’’ said official sources in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

The last foreign office visit to Morocco was by Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed in 2012 but former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited the country 15 years ago while King Mohammad VI visited India 13 years ago.

Morocco is an importance source of phosphate imports to India. OCP (office Cherifen des Phosphates) has a phosphate related joint venture with Tata Chemicals and Chambal Chemicals & Fertilisers. It produces four lakh tonnes of phosphoric acid for exports to India. Mr. Khurshid will meet Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Salaheddine Mezouar and various other senior officials in the government.

The visit to Tunisia will be the first bilateral visit ever by an Indian Foreign Minister. Return visits have also been rare — two by Tunisian foreign ministers in 1991 and 2000. Besides touching base with an important source for fertilizers, this visit will be an interesting contact between the largest democracies with a new democracy struggling to achieve durability, said official sources in the MEA.

Tunisia has been a reliable source for phosphates to India for over five decades, and India is the largest buyer of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and phosphoric acid. Tunisia-India Fertiliser SA is a $450 million Tunisia-India project, which produces 3.6 lakh tonnes of phosphoric acid annually to be shipped to Indian companies. Mr. Khurshid will meet his counterpart Othman Jerandi and other political leaders.

In Sudan, the trade relationship cuts both ways — India is the second largest exporter to Sudan, and this year exports could cross the $1-billion mark. In addition, there is active engagement in the field of energy with several Indian companies now active in Sudan, including ONGC-Videsh Ltd., BHEL, TCIL, Progressive Construction Ltd., Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata Motors and Bajaj Auto. Mr. Khurshid will meet his counterpart Ali Ahmed Karti apart from attending some events.

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