India set to sign catchup cooperation deals with Africa

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was due to sign deals in fields from trade to life sciences on Wednesday to boost India’s footprint on the African continent, where China has a strong advance.

The agreements come after Singh promised three-year credit lines of $5-billion to African nations, on the first day of the India-Africa summit on Tuesday.

The two parties were also meant to sign a political statement — the so-called Addis Ababa Declaration — calling for comprehensive reform of the United Nations (UN) system including an expanded UN Security Council in which the partners have pledged each other’s support for a permanent seat.

China has a 10-year advance over India in penetrating the African market and India is keen to play catch up.

Singh also promised an additional $700-million to set up a raft of institutions and training programmes in different African regions in fields ranging from food processing to weather forecasting.

The human resources projects India has set up and plans to develop include the India-Africa Institute of Foreign Trade in Uganda, the India-Africa Institute of Information Technology in Ghana, the India-Africa Diamond Institute in Botswana, and the India-Africa Institute of Education, Planning and Administration in Burundi.

The essential of the India-Africa talks, aimed at consolidating trade ties between two regions that together account for a third of the world’s population, took place on Tuesday, with Singh and the dozen African leaders in attendance reconvening briefly on Wednesday to finalise the agreements.

The two sides were to sign both a cooperation framework to further bolster the economic relations that got a boost after the first India-Africa summit in 2008 in New Delhi and a political agreement.

“Africa possesses all the prerequisites to become a major growth pole of the world in the 21st century,” said Singh. “We will work with Africa to enable it realise this potential.”

At the 2008 New Delhi summit, India offered $5.4-billion in concessionary credit lines over a five-year period.

“In the three years since the first India-Africa summit, Indian trade and investment in Africa have significantly increased,” noted Alex Vines of the London-based think-tank Chatham House in a report last week.

Last year, India’s imports from Africa were worth $20.7-billion, compared with $18.7-billion the previous year, and its exports stood at $10.3-billion the same year.

But those numbers are small compared with the Chinese presence. China has mainly built infrastructure projects in exchange for access to resources, and its bilateral trade with the continent in 2010 totalled $126.9-billion, according to official figures.

Both India and China have turned to Africa to seek energy resources to power their fast-paced economies, but while China prefers government-to-government deals, Indian investment is mainly in the private sector, notably in telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing.

India, which deployed its navy in 2008 as part of an international armada fighting piracy in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, is also ramping up its political and security ties with Africa and pledged $2-million for the African Union Mission in Somalia tasked with protecting the transitional government. — AFP

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