India, GCC sign declaration to push economic ties


Mumbai : Even as India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Wednesday said the process to finalise a free trade pact will be expedited, they also released a joint declaration to shape the future course of economic ties.

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The "Mumbai Declaration" released at the third edition of the two-day India-GCC Industrial Forum calls for enhanced cooperation between the two sides in four specific areas – real estate, energy, petrochemicals and infrastructure.

"Four specific areas of cooperation, not excluding others, have been deliberated to further the process and spearhead the expedition of investment ideas," said Saudi Commerce and Industry Minister Hashim bin Abdullah bin Hashim Al-Yamani.

While energy will comprise oil, natural gas and electricity, the infrastructure sectors include ports, airports, railways, road transport and highways, senior officials who attended the two-day meeting here said.

"Both sides have recognized that oil has and will continue to be the mainstay of India-GCC economic cooperation," Commerce Minister Kamal Nath told the meeting, also attended by his Omani counterpart Maqbool bin Ali bin Sultan.

"But there has also been an increased recognition of the fact that while India needs to secure its energy needs through increased Gulf cooperation, both sides cannot afford to overlook opportunities emerging in other sectors," he said.

Kamal Nath led a large Indian delegation to the meeting with a 300-member team of ministers and senior officials from six member states of the GCC – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Indian commerce minister said the country's global comparative advantages had placed it on a higher keel as an attractive investment destination as seen by three-fold jump in foreign investment from $5.5 billion in 2005-06 to $16 billion in 2006-07.

"Buoyed by this, we have set ourselves the target of $30 billion this year," he said and added GCC member countries could look at India to invest their surplus petrodollars in a low-cost, labour-rich manufacturing base.

On the issue of the proposed free trade pact, Kamal Nath assured the delegates that the process would be expedited, even as hope was expressed that the final document will be ready by the end of this year.

"We still have a few more meetings to go before we finalise the meaningful draft of the free trade agreement," said the Omani Commerce and Industry minister, adding both sides were responsible for the delay.

The two-day forum also decided that the two sides will hold ministerial meetings once every two years, while officials and businessmen would meet once in a year to push trade, economic and business linkages.

"Feedbacks from the annual meetings will form the basis for discussion between ministers from all seven countries," said India's Industry Secretary Ajay Dua.

In addition to the four areas mentioned in the Mumbai Declaration, delegates felt more focus was needed on agriculture and food processing with effort to facilitate trade and expedite existing projects, Dua said.

"Considering the potential, it has been decided that members of Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) of India will visit each one of the GCC countries to look at specific requirement of every country."

Another meaningful outcome was the agreement to jointly set up a company with a seed capital of $70 million to extend help to small and medium enterprises of the two sides.

The holding company to be set up with private and public sector participation in India and the GCC states will promote joint venture projects and provide mentoring services, officials said.

"Both India and the UAE have agreed to put in $10 million," the Omani commerce and industry minister said. "Now the onus is on the remaining five countries including Sultanate of Oman to chip in an equal amount," the minister added.

"Large companies can take care of themselves. It is the small and medium ones that need assistance," said Ajay Dua, adding a panel will be formed soon to facilitate the setting up of the company.