India offers preferential market access to woo
New Delhi, April 8
India took a forward step at the summit when it announced duty free preferential market access to imports from least developed countries, including 34 such countries in mineral and oil-rich Africa.
In his opening address at the two-day summit that began its deliberations here at Vigyan Bhawan, Manmohan Singh called Africa as “our mother continent” and underlined that for the people of India Africa was also the land of awakening of Mahatma Gandhi.
“Under the duty free tariff preference scheme for least developed countries, India will unilaterally provide preferential market access for exports from all 50 such nations,” the Prime Minister said.
The scheme will cover 94 per cent of India’s total tariff lines, specifically providing preferential market access on tariff lines that comprise 92.5 per cent of global exports of all least developed countries, he said.
The products covered include cotton, cocoa, aluminium ores, copper ores, cashew nets, cane sugar, ready-made garments, fish fillets and non-industrial diamonds.
He said the initiative was being announced as India recognises the crucial importance of market access in ensuring the development dimension of international trade.
Declaring India’s intention to reach out to Africa, the Prime Minister also announced a number of initiatives for it, including increase in India’s lines of credit to $5.4 billion over the next five years from $2.15 billion extended between 2003 and 2008.
Stressing India’s commitment to partner Africa in its developmental objectives while announcing decision to undertake projects against grants in excess of $500 million over the next five to six years, Manmohan Singh said: “Our cooperation must actively co-opt trade and industry in the processes of growth and development in Africa.”
Developing infrastructure in the railways, IT, telecom and power generation and physical connectivity would be a priority, the Prime Minister pointed out.
He announced doubling of long-term scholarships for undergraduates, postgraduates and higher courses and increase in number of training slots under technical assistance programmes from 1,100 to 1,600 every year.
The Prime Minister also proposed creation of India-Africa Volunteer Corps that is devoted to development work, particularly in public health, informal education and women’s empowerment.
“India wishes to see the 21st century as the century of Asia and Africa, with the people of the two continents working together to promote inclusive globalisation,” Manmohan Singh told the leaders from 14 countries.
“Events in India and Africa in the middle of 20th century changed the world. Today, we have a second chance to take charge of our own destiny and give a new meaning to the concept of sustainable, equitable and environment-friendly development,” he said.
The 53-nation African Union, particularly leaders from South Africa, Uganda, Congo, Ghana, Senegal and Zambia, sought cooperation on mutually beneficial and equitable basis for a win-win situation.
While the Prime Minister underlined that the summit marks the start of a new chapter in the long history of civilisation contacts and cooperation, the African Union said the continent stands ready to share its wealth of natural resources.
“There are immense opportunities for cooperation. We want to deal on the basis of win-win policy for mutual benefit,” African Union chairman Alpha Oumar Konare said.
Complaining that several promises in the past had not been fulfilled, he said: “We are not begging...We don’t want cosmetic attitude but real funding for development and democratisation of Africa. India can be a major contributor to ensure Asia-Africa togetherness and resurgence.”
South African President Thabo Mbeki hailed the Indian announcement on duty free market access, saying it will have extensive benefits for Africa.
Senegalese President Maitre Abdoulaye Wade said Africa would seize the opportunity to turn a new chapter in trade.
Seeking increased Indian investment, particularly from the private sector, Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni said there was scope for India’s participation in his country’s infrastructure, especially the railways and power generation.