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Forging a partnership

Sujay Mehdudia
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India and African nations aim at $200 billion bilateral trade by 2020

Focus on trade:Anand Sharma.Photo: Shanker Chakravarty
Focus on trade:Anand Sharma.Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

Seeking to consolidate the relationship between India and the African nations and also work out a plan for currency stablisation, India and Africa have decided to set a target of $200 billion bilateral trade by 2020.

In addition to this, the African nations and India will also chart out a course of action for food security for its population, outline steps to enhance trade and economic cooperation in various sectors including infrastructure and energy. These decisions were taken during the recent visit of Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma to Johannesburg to attend the third India-Africa Trade Ministers and India-Africa Business Council (IABC) meeting. Both sides also discussed cooperation in sectors like telecommunications, healthcare and aviation and also steps that are required to not only boost trade but also increase the connectivity between India and African nations.

Mr. Sharma also took up with the African Trade Ministers the issue of food security and the urgent need to protect livelihood of both urban and rural poor in the developing and least developed countries. The WTO Bali round of negotiations, scheduled for December, also came up for discussion with India making it clear that it would not compromise on the livelihood of poor and marginalised sections covered under the Food Security Programme. It was felt that the Bali ministerial meeting should have a successful outcome as a balanced Bali package will ensure the continued credibility of WTO as an institution. For countries of Asia and Africa, food security is crucial. Currently, there is very little in the existing trade rules to squarely address the issue. Updating the rules of Agreement on Agriculture would greatly help in carrying out these operations without defaulting on international commitments.

Mr. Sharma also pressed for fast tracking the process on the proposed free trade pact with the 19-nation Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). India-Africa trade has crossed $70 billion in 2012 and is expected to reach $100 billion by 2015. “We are aiming at $200 billion bilateral trade with the African nations by 2020 and strongly feel that this can be achieved without any difficulty,” Mr. Sharma said.

Terming the partnership as distinct and strategic, he said the robust economic growth of both India and Africa provided new opportunities of forging a development partnership which would not just be focused on transactional trade but subsume capacity building, institution building, human resource development and productive investments.

Observing that the governments of India and Africa were confronted by challenges of currency volatility, high inflation and similar issues of underdevelopment and poverty, he said the India Africa Forum Summit declarations have given a blueprint of the partnership between the two regions covering a wide range of sectors. The Minister said that a large number of regional and pan-African institutions have been established in Africa for capacity building and skill development, which would enable development of rich human resource.

Mr. Sharma also pressed for an early agreement with the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) which consists of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. Five rounds of talks have taken place so far and a number of issues need to be sorted out before a final shape is given to it.

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