India seals trade pact with South American Common Market

Monday, 26 January 2004, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: India Sunday sealed a trans-continental trade pact with the South American Common Market (Mercosur) that aims to boost two-way trade.

The signing of the preferential trade agreement followed delegation-level talks between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who began a four-day visit Sunday.

Mercosur is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Bolivia and Chile being associate members.

Three Mercosur representatives who were part of the Brazilian president's delegation too attended the signing ceremony.

They were former Argentine president Eduardo Duhaldo, who heads the Mercosur secretariat, Paraguayan Foreign Minister Leila Rachid and Gustavo Vanerio, director general of integration in the Uruguayan foreign ministry. They had joined the Brazilian president's entourage to take part in the signing ceremony.

The trade pact was seen as a reflection of India's growing importance in South American countries and its rapidly increasing economic and trade ties with the region.

India and Brazil also signed on the occasion five bilateral cooperation agreements for exemption of visa requirements for holders of diplomatic and official passports, cooperation in tourism, cultural exchange programme and a programme of cooperation between the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Brazilian Space Agency.

The Brazilian president will be the chief guest at India's colourful Republic Day parade here Monday - New Delhi's gesture towards those it considers its special friends.

Describing Brazil and India as "strategic partners", the visiting president said the two countries could together change the world's "trade geography".

The grey-bearded leftist Lula told reporters through an interpreter after President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam ceremonially welcomed him that, for him, the visit to India, the "great land of Mahatma Gandhi", was the "accomplishment of a dream."

His first official engagement after the welcome ceremony was a visit to Rajghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.

Kalam, with Prime Minister Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and senior ministers by his side, received Lula in the red-gravelled forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace, with a ceremonial honour guard on a chilly but clear morning.

"The spirit that guided the people during the independence movement is the same spirit that is guiding the political and social growth now," said Lula.

He referred to the many similarities between the two countries and said there was lot of potential for economic cooperation.

External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha met the Brazilian president before his talks with the prime minister. Defence Minister Geroge Fernandes and Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley will call on him Monday and Tuesday respectively.

The Brazilian president, who is to call on Kalam, will attend a business luncheon jointly hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Tuesday and visit Agra and Mumbai Wednesday before returning home.

The Brazilian president is accompanied on the visit by his wife Marisa Leticia and a high-level delegation of ministers, provincial governors, senators and businessmen.

India, Brazil and South Africa launched IBSA, the India-Brazil South Africa Dialogue Forum, popularly known as G-3, following a meeting of their foreign ministers in Brasilia in June last year.

The G-3 group, supported by developing countries, was largely responsible in thwarting a concerted move by developed countries to push through a lop-sided trade agreement at the WTO ministerial round in Cancun, Mexico, in September.

Source: IANS
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