‘Meltdown an opportunity for India, Africa to deepen ties’

March 24th, 2009 - 3:47 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 24 (IANS) The current economic crisis could be a blessing in disguise for both India and Africa, according to Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma.
“The current crisis is an opportunity for both India and Africa,” Sharma said here Tuesday at the valedictory session of the two-day CII-Exim Bank Conclave on India-Africa project partnership.

India-Africa trade volume has increased seven-fold in the last six years from $5 billion in 2001-02 to $36 billion in 2007-08. But it was still far less than the potential, with only 8 percent of Indian exports destined for Africa, Sharma said.

India has signed trade agreements with 30 African countries, the minister said, adding that it was also exploring the possibility of comprehensive trade pacts with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), comprising Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi.

The minister added that one of India’s focus areas in the future cooperation would be capacity-building in Africa through educational and skill-building programmes.

Besides, India’s pharmaceuticals industry could play a crucial role in coping with the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the continent.

Indian companies are already active in the drug market in Africa and the generic drugs have drastically brought down the prices of essential drugs over there, Sharma said.

A generic drug is a drug that is produced and distributed without patent protection.

He, however, warned that multinational companies were trying to pressurise countries to expand the definition of generic drugs beyond the scope of TRIPS agreement.

“The concept of generic must not be mistaken with counterfeit or pirated,” said Sharma.

The minister further stressed the importance of having enhanced cooperation between India and Africa at various multi-lateral forums.

The pan-African e-network project is an example of “south-south cooperation”, he said.

India’s ambitious e-network project, which aims to link leading universities and hospitals in the country with their counterparts in 11 African nations via satellite was launched earlier this month.

“The 21st century should be one of a resurgent India and a vibrant and confident Africa,” he said.

Sharma added that both will “try to learn from each other”, with India ready to “continue to strengthen its engagement”.

Meanwhile, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), one of the organisers of the event, and the Comesa signed an agreement for technical cooperation in the presence of the minister.

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