India sees Africa as natural ally: Sithraman

New Delhi, Oct 23 (IANS) Ahead of the Third India-Africa Forum Summit here next week, Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday said India sees Africa as a natural partner and the two sides can together have a positive influence on the future global economic order.

Addressing the Fourth India-Africa Trade Ministers’ Meeting here, she said both India and Africa face similar challenges and concerns and the world economy offers tremendous opportunities to the two fastest growing regions, according to an official statement.

Noting that after the First India-Africa Forum Summit here in 2008, India announced duty free tariff preference to least developed countries (LDCs) in order to open its market to greater exports from African countries, she said: “Since April 2014, the scheme has been further expanded and as of now India provides duty free market access on about 96 percent of India’s tariff lines and another 2.2 percent tariff lines to LDCs thus providing benefits on 98.2 percent of all tariff lines.”

“In addition, India has been one of the first countries to provide a services package for LDCs and has also waived visa fees for businessmen from LDC countries travelling to India.”

Highlighting the importance of the summit, Sitharaman said that they have “become a unique platform” where India and African partners “identify areas of cooperation through dialogue and strive to expanding and enhancing the partnership”.

“Cooperation in trade, technology and capacity building form the basis of our relationship. Greater cooperation in agriculture and agro-processing, engineering, textiles, leather, pharmaceuticals to name a few would have a positive bearing on the food security, improvement in health situation and creation of additional jobs in both Africa and India,” she said.

She also stressed value addition was the key to development and enhancing livelihood opportunities.

The meet saw participation of 37 delegations from Algeria, Angola, Benin, Comoros, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Mauritius, Niger, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, South Africa, Togo, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and eight regional economic communities.

It reviewed the progress in the implementation of commitments of earlier meetings as well as of existing trade and business relations.

Addressing a press conference later, Sitharaman said infrastructure, agriculture, energy, human resources and healthcare were areas in which India and Africa have a lot in common.

“Africa holds immense potential for export, infrastructure, building hospitals, and creating jobs,” she said, adding it has “fantastic human resources and business outsourcing has tremendous scope”.

About India’s competitive advantage in Africa vis-a-vis other major economies, Sitharaman said that “our historic connect with Africa is our biggest USP”.

“The diaspora on both sides is also a big strength,” she said.

Zimbabwe’s Deputy Minister for Industry and Commerce, Mike Bimha, who chaired Friday’s trade ministers’ meeting, said: “India can be a handy partner of Africa in the area of industrialisation.”

“African countries are laying more and more emphasis on infrastructure such as power and transport,” he said.

He also said that the Africa needed India’s support in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial meeting that will be held in Nairobi in December – the first time that the meeting is being held in Africa.

India and Africa are on the same page on WTO issues. We believe we have a lot in common and can benefit each other,” said Bimha.

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