'Maghreb can be springboard to European markets for India'
Moving beyond phosphates and oil, India is looking at new areas of cooperation like agriculture, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and textiles in its ties with North African countries - a somewhat neglected area of the world - and exploring the region as a potential springboard to European markets.
The visit last month by External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid to Morocco and Tunisia - the first by an Indian foreign minister -- and to Sudan, was aimed at "seizing the new opportunities" in the countries and to "invest strategically in bilateral ties", according to those in the know.
The effort was to identify new areas of cooperation in the economic sector in the Maghreb (besides Morocoo and Tunisia, Maghreb includes Algeria, Libya and Mauritania) nations. Investing in the pharma sector in the African region is a promising proposition with India also exploring the scope for manufacturing and export.
"The Maghreb could be a springboard to the European markets", say officials familiar with the trip.
Renewable energy is another sector of cooperation that India is seeking out in the region. In the field of agriculture, India is exploring area of cooperation in drIp technology among other things. Textiles is another area and India is planning to set up a joint textiles museum in Morocco.
In Tunisia, where the country adopted a new constitution last month, India being the world's largest democracy has offered its technical expertise, including training in parliamentary methods and also offered to provide Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for its elections.
"The effort is to bring relations on track and seize new opportunities, especially in WANA (West Asia and North Africa), to invest strategically in the relationship," knowledgeable sources said.
During his talks with the leaders of the three countries, Khurshid discussed cooperation in counter terrorism, shared India's experience in tackling money laundering. The North African nations evinced interest in cooperation in counter terrorism, especially in tackling terror emanating from western Sahara and the Sinai region.
India is also hoping the turmoil in South Sudan and Syria will end soon and it will be able to invest more in the oil sector in those two strategically important countries, the source added.
In South Sudan, OVL Videsh invested USD 2.3 billion in 2001 and has recovered most of the amount . It is now seeking to invest in newer blocks.
Morocco was the first stop in Khurshid's three-nation week-long tour, that began Jan 30. He spent three days there, then moved to Tunisia, and to Sudan.
(Posted on 12-02-2014)