Nigerian pushes for direct flights to India as trade booms (Interview with foreign minister)

March 17th, 2011 - 3:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, March 17 (IANS) With bilateral trade booming and Indian investments seen to double in two years, Nigeria has pushed for direct flights to facilitate business travel between the two countries, the country’s foreign minister, H. Odein Ajumogobia, said here.

“Our bilateral trade was over $10 billion in 2010 and total Indian investment in Nigeria is around $5 billion. I would like to see that double in a short time — two years. It is quite possible if we focus on specific areas,” Ajumogobia told IANS in an interview.

He said power, oil and gas, financial services and agriculture were four critical areas in which Indian companies could play a significant role in capacity building in Nigeria, among the fastest-expanding economies in Africa with a 7-percent average growth.

Ajumogobia, on a four-day official visit here since Tuesday, said to facilitate two-way trade and investment, it was crucial to build the institutional framework in his country as also re-start direct flight services.

“It took me eight hours to fly from Abuja to Dubai and another three hours from Dubai to New Delhi, not counting the stop-over. A direct flight will reduce the hassle and travel time,” said Ajumogobia.

“We are actively negotiating a bilateral air-service agreement with Indian authorities to start the direct flights as soon as possible,” he said, referring to the talks that had started in 2007 during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Abuja.

“Bilateral air service agreement is very important. I wam hoping we will be able to sign it during this visit. If it is not done this time I will try to expedite the process and make sure it is signed as quickly as possible.” the minister said.

On time-frame for starting the direct flight with the west African nation, Ajumogobia said: “It is difficult to say. The first step is to have the bilateral air service agreement. Then the airlines will decide on the routes. We want is as soon as possible.”

Nigeria is India’s largest trading partner in Africa. Bilateral trade grew 50 percent in the first half of this fiscal with the two-way import-export for the year set to top $12 billion. Indian investments have also risen in Nigeria, estimated at $5 billion.

But Ajumogobia said the two nations lacked the framework to push trade and investment.

“We signed Abuja Declaration during Indian prime minister’s visit to Nigeria in October 2007. It was aimed to strengthen strategic and economic partnerships. Since then some progress has been made. But many issues still need to be addressed,” he said.

He said the other pacts being negotiated include a bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement and a double taxation avoidance treaty.

Ajumogobia said his country was scheduled to go fof elections polls next month and that the Nigerian president would would visit India soon after. “A high powered business and official delegation will also come. It should give a new direction to our relations.”

The minister also spoke about Nigeria’s engagement with India in oil and gas sectors and said his country was supplying five percent of India’s oil needs. He said oil imports, now at 60,000 barrels per day, will increase soon to 80,000 barrels.

Ajumogobia also referred to his meetings with India’s Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and Petroleum Minister S. Jaipal Reddy, who had sought more oil, higher stake for state-run oil firms in the Nigeria’s hydrocarbon assets and enhanced economic ties.

He also met with his Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna, both of whom co-chaired the 5th session of the India-Nigeria Joint Commission.

Ajumogobia said there were over 100 Indian firms operating in Nigeria in hydrocarbons, power, telecom, textiles, chemicals, electrical equipment, pharmaceuticals, plastics, software and auto sectors.

“Power, oil, banking and agriculture are focus areas. We are taking all steps to open up to foreign investment. Indian investment and expertise will be very useful. We are also keen on your knowhow in health, education, software and telecom technologies.”

(Gyanendra Kumar Keshri can be reached at gyanendra.k@ians.in and biz@ians.in)

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