India-South Africa CEO forum to boost bilateral ties

By Fakir Hassen,IANS,

Johannesburg :Captains of trade and industry from India and South Africa have agreed to support their governments in bolstering relationships between the two countries, with India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma affirming to elevate this engagement to a “higher level”.

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Buoyed by the presence of Sharma and his South African counterpart Rob Davies, the CEOs agreed to have formal meetings twice a year — once in India and once in South Africa.

The CEOs’ Forum was started about three years ago under the leadership of Ratan Tata and South African business leader Patrice Motsepe, but has not been very active since.

“The CEOs have said that they are prepared to give their inputs or recommendations to the governments on a bi-annual basis,” Sharma said at a briefing after the meeting Monday.

“The governments of both India and South Africa are supportive of this CEOs’ Forum and we will also ensure that the restructured, re-energised forum works in a focussed manner and delivers on its stated objectives,” Anand added.

Davies said: “We agreed that we will find new ways to re-energise again some of the bilateral negotiations we are involved in (such as) the investment protection agreement, which we have been working on for some time but which has become stalled.

“At the multilateral level, there is the South African Customs Union-India Preferential Trade Agreement which our negotiating team will be meeting on again in the next few months.”

Davies said India was South Africa’s tenth largest foreign investor and South African firms were beginning to get involved in India to an increasing extent.

Sharma said that the leadership of the two countries had set a target to take the current trade of $7 billion to $20 billion by 2012.

“Because of the global downturn and the challenges associated with it, there has been a setback, which we reviewed. We reaffirmed the commitment of both the government and the business leaders of both the countries to elevate this engagement to a higher level to ensure that we are able to achieve what perhaps may not be achieved by 2010, but well before 2012.”

Sharma added that the two countries which are also engaged in the IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) trilateral, have set a target of taking IBSA trade between the three countries to $25 billion by 2015.

“We hope to be able to prepare through the CEO Forum all those pathways of cooperation bilaterally. We also encourage our CEOs to look at opportunities elsewhere and to partner with friends in the region and internationally.”

Sharma said the apex bodies of business and industry in both countries, such as Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Confederation of Indian Industry and Business South Africa, have been in contact. “Their coordination efforts will also further help in supporting strengthening the bilateral cooperation that both the governments have in mind,” he said.