India's trade with the Arab world will receive a shot in the arm with the launch today of the India-Arab Forum for cooperation even as the Indian external affairs minister, Pranab Mukherjee and the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Amre Moussa, agreed that bilateral trade had the potential to increase much beyond the the last year's level of $30 billion
Moussa said "Minister Mukherjee talked about $500-600 billion in trade and investment. I would venture to talk about reaching the goal of $100 billion in the coming two to four years if we continue to progress in the same active pace." Both leaders, however agreed that the bilateral trade can further increase to $500 billion in 10 years.
Inaugurating the six-day long India-Arab Forum Ė Partnership through Culture, Mukherjee declared: "We believe the Forum will emerge as a mechanism to strengthen and diversify our relations in various fields such as culture, trade, energy and human resources. The brick that we have laid today will be transformed into an edifice which does justice to our close and long-standing relations".
The Forum is organised by the apex industry body, FICCI, Indian ministry of external affairs and the League of Arab States.
Expressing India's unstinted support for the Palestinian cause, Mukherjee voiced concern at the lack of progress in the peace talks. In this context, he underlined the need to take the Arab peace initiative forward. "The end of the year, the target date for a settlement, is already upon us and there does not seem to have been much progressÖ.We feel that Annapolis process needs to be taken forward".
He said : "nearly five million Indians live in the Arab world and it is a matter of great satisfaction and pride for us that Indians have contributed significantly to the development of the countries which they rightly consider as their second home. Increasingly, the profile of the Indian community in this region is changing and today almost 20% of Indians are professionals."
Moussa, described the launch of the Arab-India Forum as marking "a new era in our relations in the spheres of political, energy, environment, media, science and technology, human resources, culture and educationÖ..Today's event marks a new dawn towards effective, synergetic and strategic partnership".
The remarkable growth in the Indian economy and the Arab economies, Moussa said had driven a huge interest in cross-border investments. In 2007-07, the total trade exchanges between