India to sign eco pacts with COMESA, EAC nations

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 25 2009, 03:29am hrs
India is exploring possibilities of striking comprehensive economic cooperation agreements with the Common Market of Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC).

India and African nations would work together by adopting a consensual approach and voice the need for striking a balance between public health concerns and protection and enforcement of the intellectual property rights (IPRs) regime at various multi-lateral fora.

The 21st Century is the century of a âresurgent India and a vibrant and self-confident Africa,â according to the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, Anand Sharma who also said that it was time for India and Africa to step up their partnership to a new level, especially in the fields of capacity building and skills development.

Delivering the valedictory address at the 5th CII-Exim Bank Conclave on India Africa Project Partnership on Tuesday, he described the successful launch of the Pan-African e-Network Project in February 2009 as âa pioneering effort in the fields of telemedicine and tele-education that would result in a mutually rewarding partnership.â

Sharma said, âIn Africa, Indian generics have reduced the cost of AIDS drugs from $15,000 to $200 per patient per year. Today, there are reliable estimates that half of all AIDS patients in the Third World rely on Indian generics. However, multinational companies have been using pressure tactics and working with drug regulatory authorities in developed and developing countries to try to expand the definition of generic drugs beyond the scope of the TRIPS agreement. Such an interpretation of generic drugs would be detrimental to the efforts of developing countries to ensure timely access to essential life-saving and affordable medicines to their citizens. In fact most of the facilities manufacturing these generic drugs which are exported to Africa and other countries conform to the highest quality standards prescribed by the WHO.â

He urged that India and African nations should work together by adopting a consensual approach and voice the need for striking a balance between public health concerns and protection and enforcement of the intellectual property rights (IPRs) regime at various multi-lateral fora.

The minister said that it was time for Indian industry to institutionalize its relations with Africa, adding that ânew pathways had to be found for sustainable and inclusive growth.â In this context, he pointed to the strategies outlined in the Framework Cooperation Agreement that was reached at last yearâs India-Africa Summit.

The CII-EXIM Bank India-Africa Partnership was launched in 2004. The first ever India-Africa Forum Summit held in New Delhi in April 2008 was convened in partnership with the African Union. The 5th CII-Exim Bank Conclave on India Africa Project Partnership held this year has the participation from 38 African nations, four regional bodies and six financial institutions on the either side. The two-day conclave has the participation from 450 participants from Africa, including ministers from 12 African countries namely Mauritius, Burkina Faso, Cote dâlvoire, Botswana, Mozambique, Sudan, Comoros, Togo, Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic.

On the occasion, two MoUs were also signed. The first between the COMESA Business Council (CBC) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and the second for a $25-million line of credit from the EXIM Bank of India for Burkina Faso, the partner country for this yearâs conclave. The CBC-CII MoU provides a framework for promoting technical cooperation between the CII and the CBC in all fields of economic activity, while the line of credit to be extended by the EXIM Bank seeks to promote rural electrification in Burkina Faso.

In his address, the Dean of the African Groups of Heads of Missions, Ambassador Jonathan Wutaunashe said that theme of the conclaveâ Celebrating Partnerships -- was an appropriate one but the challenge lay in ensuring that the outcomes and targets are achieved.

According to Wutaunashe, âToday Africa presented an opportunity, with more governments in the continent putting in place the necessary policy frameworks to attract investment.â

He said that âpeople in Africa came to India to take health, education and technology back to their country, and it was this relationship that must now be put on a stronger footing.â

Zimbabwe Minister of Regional Integration and International Cooperation, P Misihairambwi Mushonga said that India needs to help resurrect African economy by not only helping in capacity building but also extending financial assistance for the projects. The centres of excellence to be set up should cater to regional needs.

Mozambique Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Caterina Pajume said India should help in farm mechanisation and extension services, crop improvement, irrigation.

A MoU has been signed with India for supply of mango saplings to Mozambique. A cashew nut processing unit would be set up in Mozambique with Indian assistance and equipment sourced from HMT International. India has given assistance of $ one million for developing infrastructure, agriculture, educational facilities, power generation and distribution.

Deputy Minister for Commerce and Industry of Liberia, Frederick B Norkeh invited Indian companies to invest in mining, infrastructure, food processing, retail chains and small and medium sized sector, natural rubber processing and use of rubber wood and forest produces. He invited Indian investment for setting up sugar mills and for cultivation of paddy. Liberia government is slated to sign an agreement with a Malaysian company for cultivation of paddy.

He said that ArcelorMittal has invested $1.6 billion for production of 15 to 20 million tonne iron in Nimba for export. Other Indian companies like Vedanta and Essar are trying to bid for iron mines in Liberia. Chinese consortium has however emerged as the largest investor with $2.6 billion and by bagging Bong Mines. An agreement has been signed with the US firm, Amlib for gold mining. Liberia has rich deposit of diamond which needs to be exploited, he said

On his part, the CII Africa Committee & Chairman, Tata International, Syamal Gupta, Chairman, CII Africa Committee & Chairman, Tata International, noted that the conclave was a major springboard for greater India-Africa cooperation and that the success story of Indian small and medium enterprise could be a learning experience for Africa.