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. India loosens purse strings to woo resource-rich Africa

Indian Premier Manmohan Singh
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP) April 8, 2008
India sought to deepen strategic and economic ties with resource-rich Africa as it held its first summit meeting on Tuesday with African leaders and sweetened the pot by offering financial help.

Indian Premier Manmohan Singh, playing host to the presidents of five African states and senior leaders of nine other countries, announced export tariffs cuts that he said would benefit 34 of Africa's 53 countries.

"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," Singh said in a speech.

He more than doubled financial credit to Africa to 5.4 billion dollars in the next five years from 2.1 billion dollars in the preceding five years.

Singh also offered to partner Africa in developing agriculture, infrastructure, education and small-scale industry along with information technology and said half a billion dollars would be handed out in project aid.

He also announced a raft of measures, including preferential market access for exports. Products covered by the tariff concessions include cotton, cocoa, aluminium ore, copper ore, readymade garments and non-industrial diamonds.

The two days of talks with countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Africa and others that Indian officials say are aimed at defining "the roadmap for future engagement," were slated to end on Wednesday.

An unflinching supporter of Africa's independence struggle against colonialism, India once enjoyed close ties and wielded considerable influence with many African countries.

But analysts say New Delhi's focus on the United States and Europe since launching market reforms in 1991 has eroded its support base in Africa, while countries such as China and Japan have made great inroads on the continent.

China's bilateral trade with Africa stood at 56 billion dollars annually in 2007-08 while India's trade with the continent totalled 30 billion dollars, according to government figures.

With India's economy growing at nearly nine percent a year, New Delhi is looking at Africa's vast mineral and hydrocarbon resources to fuel its growth.

Democratic Republic of Congo president Joseph Kabila noted in a speech that Africa's past engagement with other countries had resulted in "words and speeches (that have) remained mere words for decades.

"We need immediate visible projects," he said.

African Union head Alpha Oumar Konare recalled New Delhi's "support" for the continent's struggle against colonialism and said infrastructure, health, education, science and food security were areas where it wanted Indian know-how.

"India must keep its ear open to the aspirations of the (African) people," Konare said, adding Africa was willing to share its vast resources with India.

He also urged Africa to shed its image of being a "mere market for raw materials, purchased at low prices with no advantage to us."

"We want to deal with equality, mutual respect and mutual benefit... We want to deal with other countries on an equal footing," he added.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said though many African and Asian countries became independent at around the same time, Asian economies outstripped their African counterparts because of "the anti-private sector attitude" adopted by several leaders of the African continent.

But now "those policies have been corrected," he said, urging Indian companies to set up units in Africa.

"We have zero tariff access covering 6,500 products in the United States... Europe, that we are not utilising fully," Museveni said.

China had also given Africa zero tariff access for 440 products and if India could "encourage your Indian companies to come and invest in Africa in order to export to these markets, it will be very good," Museveni said.

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