Farm-reliant Ethiopia is fertile for India Inc: Dy Prime Minister (Interview)

December 5th, 2010 - 1:11 pm ICT by IANS  

By Lakshmi Krishnakumar
New Delhi, Dec 5 (IANS) Ethiopia not only seeks Indian investment but also offers itself as a base for import of farm and industrial goods produced there for a partnership that can help both the countries, says the east African country’s Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Choosing India for his first overseas visit after being appointed a few months ago, Desalegn, who also oversees his nation’s foreign office, wants the partnership with India to also extend to railways and infrastructure.

“Our economy has so far been agriculture-led. We now want India to help us transform our economy into the industrialised arena,” Desalegn told IANS in an exclusive interview, during his five-day visit to India that ended Saturday. Excerpts:

Q: This is your first overseas visit since you were appointed to the high office. Why was India your first choice?

A: India and Ethiopia share a long and strong historical relationship. We want to relate to Asia through India which is taking on the leadership position in the world. We have almost copied your federal system because we have seen it serves diversity the best. We also share a very good trade and economic relationship with India. These were certainly the factors. My visit also saw the launch of a joint ministerial-level commission.

Q: Trade has been an important component of India-Ethiopia relations. How is progress in this area? Has the line of credit India has extended helped in any manner?

A: Currently, the bilateral trade volume is $500 million. But the export balance leans in India’s favour. We hope to cope up and increase our exports too. We export hides and skins, pulses, gemstones and sugar to India. Also, the $640- million line of credit from the Export-Import Bank of India is the largest for us and was meant for developing our sugar factories. This has helped us set up two big sugar factories. The repayment will be over 20 years and we will pay back through sugar exports to India. India had also given a $65-million credit to us for developing a power station which is also under way.

Q: Ethiopia and India have also agreed to partner in joint agricultural projects. What are the other areas where India and Ethiopia are working together?

A: We are seeking help from India to develop our railways. India has the largest rail network in the world. It has the expertise. Also, in education, science and technology as well as to fight climate change — our economy has so far been agriculture-led. We now want India to help us transform our economy into the industrialised arena. We have also signed an agreement with India for cooperation in information technology. We realise that the only countries that can help us are India and China. We cannot depend on the West for assistance, since they themselves are in trouble.

Q: What about cooperation at the level of the private sector? Isn’t Ethiopia emerging as an attractive destination for some Indian companies as well?

A: Yes, we have been inviting foreign direct investment in a big way. We are formulating an investment-friendly policy. We give priority to export-based investments from India. Already there are 380 companies in Ethiopia that have been issued licence by us so we are quick to move the papers. Investors realise that there is a domestic and a global market through Ethiopia — we are located close to European markets. This is a great opportunity for Indian businesses. Africa is another large market. Then there are vast opportunities in farming. We have very fertile land. Only 43 percent of it is used.

(Lakshmi Krishnakumar can be reached at lakshmi.k@ians.in)

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