NEW DELHI, November 7: A two-day Indo-Arab conference beginning on November 13 is being billed as the starting point of substantially expanded interaction between the two sides in areas like trade, investment, joint ventures, energy, financial and banking services, technical education, and cutting-edge technologies.

Jointly organised by the Indo-Arab Economic Cooperation Forum and Institute of Objective Studies, the conference seeks to build on the long history of cultural and trade ties between India and the Arab world. The Arab delegates (including ministers, bureaucrats, business leaders, academics, NGO leaders and media folk) would with their Indian counterparts, be mapping out areas of cooperation in the future.

The conference marks a turn in history, when the Arabs, instead of putting all their eggs in the Western basket, are trying to invest more heavily in Asian countries like China, India, Singapore and Malaysia as these economies surge forward at a steady rate. On the other hand, the erstwhile Arab investment destinations like Europe and the United States are struggling with growth rates that range from zero to 2 percent.

The "Look-East" stance of the Arab world is quite understandable. Growing discontent with Western policies that hark back to the colonial era and its aggressive, unfair practices, more and more Mid-Eastern investors would like to put their money in a place like India. Besides, with a growth rate of 7-8 percent, their investment in India is a far more attractive proposition than investing in countries with zero growth, or at best 1-2 percent growth. That is quite natural, for nobody wants smaller returns on his investment. The shift in Arab investment patterns reflects a far wider, enduring and substantial economic and geopolitical trend that bodes the rise of Asia in decades ahead.

"The 19th century belonged to Europe, the 20th to America, the 21st century is certainly going to belong to Asia," Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam, chairman of the Institute of Objective Studies (IOS), told newsmen here today. IOS is one of the organisers of the mega-event that will see a galaxy of political, businesses and academic leaders from both the sides.

Among the participants would be the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, the foremost advocate of "Asian values", derived from the major religious and cultural traditions of the region. Ibrahim also happens to be one of the leading lights of the global democratic movement.

"My friend Anwar’s presence will mark an attempt at people’s participation in governance, their say in day-to-day public affairs affecting the social and economic wellbeing of large masses of people," Dr Alam said.

Dr Alam pointed out that energy consumption patterns were the surest indicators of economic growth. "The rate at which energy consumption has grown in India and China over the last 10 years is astounding", he said, explaining that India had been investing heavily in oil fields abroad to meet its rapidly growing energy demands. Greater cooperation with the energy-rich Arab world is a timely initiative.

On the other hand, India is already doing pretty well in IT, bio-tech, nano-tech, media and entertainment, financial services and medical tourism, areas that are crucial to the Arab world. Medical tourism from Arab world is no longer preponderantly focussed on the US and Western Europe, and much of the medical tourist traffic has been diverted to Asian destinations.

"It is at such a crucial junction that we are meeting," Dr Alam explained, adding that a new chapter is slowly opening in Indo-Arab cooperation. This is especially so because government leaders and public officials will also interact at what is basically a people-to-people initiative.


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