Gulf business houses eye Kerala, but with caution

Monday, 20 January 2003, 08:00 Hrs
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KOCHI: The strong presence of Middle East participants at an investor meet here has come as an encouraging signal of keenness among business houses in the Gulf to put their money in Kerala.

But, while the participants from the Middle East at the Global Investors' Meet were interested in Kerala, they said the state would have to work hard to get them to finally invest.

Prominent among those who attended the meet were United Arab Emirates (UAE) Supreme Council Affairs Minister Sheikh Majeed Sayeed Rasheed Al-Noumy, former Bahrain power minister Abdulla Mohammed Juma and officials of leading Oman-based business house Towell Barwill.

Business magnate Juma said he was impressed that both Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Chief Minister A.K. Antony had expressed strong commitment to economic progress in Kerala at the Kochi meet.

"This is the biggest positive signal that Kerala has," Juma told IANS.

Juma, who was power minister during 1995-99 and has over 30 years of experience in the energy sector in Bahrain, said he and his partners were seriously considering investing in Kerala.

"I am interested in starting a tourism project here. If you look at the visitors Kerala gets, there are very few people from the Middle East. One reason is that Kerala, even though it sends a lot of its people to our countries, has not been promoted as a tourist destination," Juma said.

He said Zanzibar in Tanzania had emerged as a popular holiday destination among Arabs, especially Bahrainis, after a company from his country invested there.

"I would like to bring my countrymen to Kerala if my plans of setting up a tourist resort in this state materialise."

But Juma is not going to blindly put his money into Kerala. "One thing which has to improve in the state is infrastructure. Roads are still not world class and unless things like this change, Kerala might not get the desired level of investments."

Though Juma has interests in the energy and textile businesses, he said his presence in Kerala would be limited to the tourism and food processing sectors.

"I am going back with a lot of positive impressions of Kerala and would be observing what the state government does now. Speaking is different from implementing," said Juma.

One project that has been signed is between Towell Barwill and the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) for launching ship services between destinations in the Middle East and this state.

The UAE-based Al-Ghaith group of companies was another prospective investor going back from the meet with an optimistic feel about Kerala. But its chairman Ali-Ghaith -- who is into real estate, construction, investment and several other sectors in the UAE -- did not indicate where his interests in Kerala lie.

"It is too early for me to commit to any sort of plan. I have been observing Kerala for a while and at the moment I am happy that things are brightening up. I am going back with good memories of Kerala and what the state is offering," said Ghaith, who already has investments in Tamil Nadu.

Source: IANS
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