By Fakir Hassen, IANS
Johannesburg : South Africa, Namibia and India Tuesday became the first countries to sign a memorandum of understanding in an Engineering Export Promotion Council (EEPC) plan for greater cooperation with SADEC (Southern African Development Community).
“We are in discussion with the other countries in the region (Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe) and hope to have discussions concluded with them soon,” said P.K. Shah, chairman of the EEPC subcommittee on trade with Africa.
Representatives of chambers of commerce in South Africa, Namibia and India signed memorandums of understanding on the periphery of INDEE, the four-day Indian Engineering Exhibition currently running here after it was inaugurated by India’s Minister of State for Industry Ashwani Kumar here Tuesday.
“We are proposing to have Indo-Africa partnerships between EEPC and all the SADEC members so that, apart from information sharing, we can try to promote trade and investment by India in those countries, and also for those countries in India,” said Shah.
“Until now, the EEPC had only a support role, but now the council has a new role of trade and investment, and we are very confident that the SADEC countries present a very good market.
“We believe that the technologies that Indian small and medium enterprises have are most suited to these countries. Currently they are banking on very high-value items from Europe and the UK, because they have that influence.
“But once Indian goods start pouring in here and they start manufacturing in their own countries, it will be much cheaper and will be available to even the weaker sections of the people of these countries.”
Conceding that this would take some time, Shah added that the project was a long-term development one in which the SADEC countries could benefit from Indian expertise and technology.
“We want to complete the set-up of the Indo-SADEC partnership by March 2008, when we want to have another meeting with the full partnership signed by all members so that the plan can be mapped out and the respective chambers of commerce can take up their matters with their governments,” he informed.
The headquarters of the Indo-African Partnership would be the new Indian Engineering Centre in Johannesburg, which was officially inaugurated by Kumar on Monday. It is the second Indian Engineering Centre in the world after Chicago.
The chairman of the partnership is still to be decided, but could be from the ranks of any of the participating members, Shah added.
Shah said the immediate benefits for South Africa and Namibia would be the establishment of joint initiatives between local and Indian industries that could result in savings of up to half their current manufacturing costs.
“The benefits for Namibia are that we will be able to communicate more frequently with our counterparts in India and also be able to gain expertise and engineering technology from India,” said Tarah Shaanika, chief executive officer of the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“We need such technology, particularly for our mining and manufacturing, and we believe that India provides very good technologies for a country like Namibia,” he added.
Shaanika said Indian imports were still very low in Namibia, mainly coming in through South Africa.
“The agreement also opens up opportunities for exporting some of our products to India, the food sector in particular. We have a lot of species of fish that are not found in India and we believe we could export this to India.”
Shaanika said Namibia had also developed capacity in infrastructure, particularly airports and roads that could be exported to India, even if it meant competing with neighbouring South Africa, which was already active in India in these areas.