Home > politics > policy > India to play catch-up with China at Africa trade summit

New Delhi: India will play catch-up with China in attempts to reach out to resource-rich Africa on Friday when it hosts ministers and senior officials from 30 out of 54 African countries during the fourth India-Africa trade ministers’ meeting on Friday.

India will push for early resumption of talks for proposed trade agreements with the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) groupings, which have remained stalled for last three years.

A government official speaking under condition of anonymity said while 26 trade ministers have confirmed participation, another four countries will be represented by trade ministry officials.

The meeting will lay the ground for the India-Africa forum summit of heads of African governments on 26-30 October. The industry department will also host an India-Africa business council meeting on Friday.

Established in 1910, SACU is the oldest customs union, comprising South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. India and SACU started negotiations on a preferential trade agreement in 2005 following the India-South Africa Joint Ministerial Commission. A so-called memorandum of understanding was signed between the two in 2008 to facilitate the negotiations. While India sought a tariff reduction in 30-50% of goods, the grouping is ready to offer only 10% of total traded goods.

COMESA was established in December 1994 as an organization for economic prosperity through regional integration among the 19 member countries. India has not made much progress in negotiations for a free trade agreement with COMESA due to low level of ambition.

India is also closely watching the tripartite free trade agreement (TFTA) signed among African countries in June for greater economic engagement.

TFTA is a proposed free trade agreement between COMESA, the Southern African Development Community and the East African Community, representing 26 African economies worth $1 trillion and 600 million people.

The official said trade ministers will also review the status of some of the institutions which were to be established, like the India Africa Institute of Foreign Trade in Uganda and the India Africa Diamond Institute in Botswana. “The Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and Indian Diamond Institute will set up campuses in Africa to run training programmes for capacity building. India will partly finance the setting up the two institutions with an investment of around 80 crore," the official said.

India and the African countries are also likely to commit to work together for substantial outcomes in the Nairobi ministerial of World Trade Organization members in December, keeping in mind the developmental agenda of the Doha round of negotiations.

“We will also discuss future possible collaborations. We need more clarity on the areas of cooperation which we hope will emerge from the meeting of the ministers," he added.

Both sides may announce they will start work on a joint roadmap of cooperation to harmonize standards and regulatory regimes.

Africa is considered the next growth frontier and is already an important trade partner for India. Trade with Africa increased from $39 billion in 2009-10 to $71.4 billion in 2014-15, with exports rising faster than imports.

Both sides may announce a target of doubling bilateral trade to around $145 billion by 2022.

India’s key export interests are in processed petroleum products, drugs and pharmaceuticals, and motor vehicles. Crude petroleum is the biggest imported item from Africa, followed by gold, coal and other mining products.

India became the first developing country to extend a duty-free, quota-free facility to the world’s least developed countries (LDCs), which will benefit 21 such countries from Africa. It has also said it will provide preferential treatment in services trade to LDCs ahead of the Nairobi ministerial meet of the WTO in December where the decision is expected to be notified.

Biswajit Dhar, professor at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, said the meeting of the trade ministers should present an opportunity for exploring different avenues for future engagement. “Africa is the continent of the future. This meeting is an important stepping stone for deepening economies ties between both sides," he added.

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