New Delhi: India and South Africa on Friday concluded a three-year strategic programme to boost cooperation in a number of key areas, including defence and trade after talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in New Delhi.

The pact sets out the direction that the partnership between the two countries is expected to take in the coming years, with the visiting South African president saying that his country was seeking "result-oriented" ties with India.

He listed defence and security, trade and investment, the blue economy, tourism, IT and agriculture as priority areas for cooperation from his government’s side.

Ramaphosa is on a two-day visit to India, his first since taking office as president of South Africa in February last year.

He will be the chief guest at India’s 70th Republic Day parade on Saturday. He will be the second dignitary from South Africa to be invited as chief guest to the military parade, which is the highlight of the Republic Day celebrations. Prior to this, India had invited former president Nelson Mandela as the guest of honor at the celebrations in 1995.

In the past several years, India has stepped up its engagement with Africa, with 29 visits at the level of the president, the vice-president and the prime minister to African countries. This is part of an Indian effort to recast its ties with the resource- and energy-rich continent against the backdrop of China making deep inroads into Africa.

In his comments to reporters after talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the South African president said that during discussions “the prime minister and I were in agreement that considerable scope exists for our two countries to grow and extend and deepen our bilateral relations at a number of levels but more particularly at the economic level".

Ramaphosa's visit was preceded by meetings of officials on agriculture, trade and investment – areas the two sides identify as priority, an Indian official said on Thursday.

T.S. Tirumurti, secretary, economic relations, in the Indian foreign ministry, also said that South African armaments firm Denel had been taken off an Indian blacklist after being placed on it for allegedly paying kickbacks to secure contracts from the Indian army in 2005. Under that deal, the Indian army was to procure 700 anti-material rifles. But the procurement was put on hold because of the ban.

In July, Ramaphosa had urged Modi to allow the state-run arms maker to do business in India.

In his comments, Modi recalled that he had first met Ramaphosa when the latter was vice-president in 2016. Last year, the two had met on three occasions – at the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) in London in April, the BRICS meeting in July in Johannesburg and later at the G-20 meet in Buenos Aires.

Later addressing the India-South Africa Business Forum, Modi noted that trade ties between the two countries were growing with the volume of commerce approaching $10 billion and creating over 20,000 jobs locally.

“As a brotherly nation, India will be happy to share its experience in policy reforms and setting up ground-level agencies. We encourage even more investment by Indian companies in South Africa and are confident that more South African companies will also enter the Indian market," Modi said.

“I assure you that New India would welcome you to look at all available opportunities, particularly in the food and agro processing, deep mining, defence, fin-tech, insurance and infrastructure sectors," the prime minister said.

“Likewise, India could also partner with South Africa in start-ups, healthcare and pharma, bio-tech, IT and IT enabled sectors," he said.

“We are delighted to be a part of the South Africa skills story through the recent launch of the Gandhi Mandela Skills Institute. This initiative seeks to empower the youth," the prime minister said.

“Another important collaboration between our two countries could be in the gems and jewelry sector. Both countries could explore avenues for direct procurement of diamonds," Modi added.

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