Coming together…to forge the future (Nov. 08, 2006)

The rise of Asia beginning in the late 20th century has become a fact of life today, recognised worldwide as an irreversible trend. What began with Mahathir Mohammad’s call to "Look East" has now turned into a foreign policy mantra in many Asian capitals, and business wisdom for investors worldwide.

Capitalising on this trend, the Institute of Objective Studies and Indo-Arab Economic Cooperation Forum are organising a conference on "Indo-Arab Relations: Partnership in Development" from November 13 through 14. The conference will see ministers, diplomats, business and opinion leaders from Arab countries and their Indian counterparts coming together to forge new business and cultural ties.

In the developing world there is a widespread misbelief that only development projects and other businesses are chasing elusive funds, while the economic reality is that huge funds are also chasing development projects and reliable businesses worldwide. The Indo-Arab conference is planned around this idea.

In India, at the present level of development, the humongous amount of wealth produced over the last decade is not always visible largely because of areas of underdevelopment. However, the fact remains that there is tremendous amount of money available today for investment abroad. Indian acquisition of foreign companies -- large and small -- is no longer a rare phenomenon. And here we are not talking of companies largely owned and run by Non-Resident Indians, but by Indians living in India and running companies that sometimes have international shareholders.

The trend began with extensive liberalisation in 1991. The relentless process of economic reforms has continued over the last 15 years, albeit with periodic hiccups. That somehow is natural and understandable because no worthwhile socio-economic change comes without heartaches and occasional setbacks. But the fact that India has gained tremendously from the economic reforms is evident from the large foreign exchange reserves the country has accustomed over the years.

It’s not only the private sector that is going global, but even public sector is boldly stepping into foreign territory. The oil and gas interests acquired by the Oil and Natural Gas Commission in half a dozen countries indicate where the country stands today.

That the world has realised this is evident from investment trends across the board. New FDI laws have opened up unlimited scope for fund inflows from abroad, the latest being the real estate and infrastructure sector. To sustain such a massive scale of economic activity we do need state of the art infrastructure. Some of the largest FDI funds have come into this sector. FDI from GCC countries this year alone exceeds $2 billion, which is just the beginning of the story.

The charge d’ affaires of the Arab League Mission in India has articulated certain Arab goals: acquiring Indian "skill to educate, build and enable" Arab people; learning from Indian experience in accelerating development; Indian "help (to) establish middle- and small-scale economic projects and make them more effective", and investing in Indian infrastructure.

The Arab interest is also in IT, bio-tech, nano-tech, technology transfers and financial services. The IOS, in collaboration with the Indo-Arab Economic Cooperation Forum, is providing a platform to the two sides to come together to forge a future of peace and prosperity.

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