India-Arab trade to rise to $100 bn

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 3 2008, 04:54am hrs
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 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 progress.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 education..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 India and the Arab countries excluding oil trade reached $30 billion from $8.8 billion in 2000. The vast complementarities in the areas of food, food processing, education, tourism, healthcare, construction, real estate, banking and financial sectors showed enormous potential for further deepening relations between India and the Arab world, he pointed out.

He said that Arab countries were now seeking to work closely with India in various fields of investment and trade. Arab countries, particularly the Gulf states had become a destination for Indian labour force whose number now exceeded four million working in various fields of production with remittances amounting to $24 billion, he said.

Moussa said that the signing of the Arab-India Cooperation Forum marked a new era in our relations in the political, economic and cultural fields as well as in trade, investment, energy, environment, media, science and technology, human resources development, culture and education. Through its plan of action, the Forum had set a framework of wide ranging activities in fields of cooperation such as the organization of an annual Arab-India Partnership Conference, frequent meetings of the heads of different universities in India and the Arab countries, an Arab-India festival that includes seminars, exhibitions, film festivals and cultural performances as well as the establishment of a joint high level committee to be convened at various levels to discuss bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual concern, he said.

He informed that the Arab summit scheduled in Kuwait in January 2009 would discuss economic, social and development issues with the aim of establishing programmes and practical mechanisms to effectively implement Arab development strategies. The three-day summit would discuss and identify the role of governments, private sector and the civil society organizations. It would discuss the impact of global financial crisis, projects pertaining to transport and movement of Arab investments and the need to set up Arab Customs Union in the near future in accordance with a set schedule. He said that the year 2010 would be declared as the Year of Arab-India Friendship.