New Delhi, Nov. 13: The Finance Minister of India, Mr P. Chidambram, said here today that there was tremendous potential for economic interaction between India and Arab world, but it had not been tapped properly so far. He was delivering the inaugural address at a two-day conference on "Indo-Arab Relations: Partnership in Development". The meet had been jointly organised by Indo-Arab Economic Cooperation Forum and Institute of Objective Studies at Vigyan Bhavan.

He said the export to Arab world and North-West Africa had grown substantially over the last year from $14 billion to $17 billion, and imports (excluding oil) had gone from $9 billion to $13.9 billion. The depth of the economic relationship was reflected by the presence of 3.5 million Indians in the Arab world (mainly Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait) and their annual remittances to the country came up to a staggering $24 billion a year.

The Arab world has been home to great civilisations spanning 5000 years, and India too has been similarly endowed. Interactions between the two in trade and commerce have continued without a break. There have been Indians who made seminal contribution to art and letters, religion and culture of Arabia. "Yet", Mr Chidambram noted, "no Arab company figures among the top 10 foreign investors in India."

The two sides have however been working towards improving the current investment climate with steps like bilateral investment protection agreements between India and half a dozen Arab countries. More such agreements would be signed soon. On the other hand, the GCC countries are already the third largest trading partner of India. Despite nagging problems like Iraq war, the deadlock over Iran and the unresolved Palestinian question things had been looking up.

Mr Chidambram said that India’s robust manufacturing sector, its strength in steel, petroleum refining, petrochemicals, textile, IT, ITES and pharmaceuticals provided a viable range of options for foreign investment.

The guest speaker, former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Anwar Ibrahim, said he had recommended India’s inclusion in the ASEAN keeping in view its brilliant performance as a democracy and a country whose all-around economic development was sustainable in the mid-term as well as in the long term.

Humorously clarifying his position, Dr Ibrahim said "I have not been employed by India", but the way India had established "good governance, independent media and judiciary" was remarkable. The stability thus created a good climate for investment.

Sheikh Yusuf Jasim al-Hijji, the President of International Islamic Charitable Organisation of Kuwait, said that Arabs should take note of India’s potential and think seriously about business cooperation with it.

Earlier, the President of Indo-Arab Economic Forum, Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam, while introducing the theme of the conference, stressed the need for India and the Arab world joining hands for the prosperity of the two regions "in a globalising environment". He said Arabs wanted to be part of India’s growth and prepare for future economic opportunities through education and skill upgradation of their youth. He said he saw many commonalities between the two regions which should lead to greater cooperation.

Dr Samir Fakhro, a UNESCO consultant from Bahrain, said quoting Amartya Sen that inclusiveness and distributive justice should be part of the development agenda. "Development is freedom", he said, adding that human beings should be the focus of developmental activity.

In his presidential remarks former Chief Justice of India, Justice AM Ahmadi, advocated "development with a soul". He pointed out that the Constitution of India itself desired such an equitable arrangement. He also hoped that Indo-Arab economic cooperation would grow over the years.

One of the organisers, Mr Vipin Malik, introduced the Forum. The programme began with a recitation from the holy Quran.


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