India, Gulf countries to sign trade pact

Monday, 23 August 2004, 07:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will sign a landmark framework pact for a free trade agreement (FTA) Tuesday, paving the way for increased trade and economic cooperation.

The agreement will be signed during a four-day visit of Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Mohammad Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah, who will be heading a high-level GCC delegation.

Set up in 1981 to resist outside intervention in the region, the six-nation GCC consists of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

With the signing of the agreement, India will become only the third country after Japan and the US to sign a FTA with GCC.

Kuwait currently holds the rotating presidency of GCC.

The six GCC countries account for 45 percent of the world's recoverable oil reserves and 20 percent of the natural gas resources.

GCC secretary general Abdulrahman bin Hamad Al-Attiyah will sign the framework agreement on behalf of his organisation with a senior official of the Indian commerce ministry.

Senior ministers of GCC countries had taken part in the first India-GCC industrial conference in Mumbai in February that focussed on trade, investments, industrial cooperation and transfer of technology, including in IT.

The conference also discussed the framework agreement that would eventually lead to a FTA.

India has close economic and political links with the GCC countries, where more than 3.5 million Indians live and work, forming the biggest expatriate population in the region.

The two-way trade between India and GCC is of the order of $12 billion. Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait are traditional suppliers of oil to India, while with Qatar New Delhi has a 25-year sale and purchase agreement for liquefied natural gas.

GCC diplomats said they attached high importance to the signing of the framework agreement. "We have been looking forwards to such an agreement for a long time," one of them said.

Apart from signing the framework agreement, the visit of the Kuwaiti foreign minister Aug 23-26 is significant because it ends a long hiatus in high-level bilateral visits.

This is the first bilateral visit by a senior Kuwaiti leader to India in recent years and the first by a foreign minister of that country.

Al-Sabah is also chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development.

The visit underscores restoration of normalcy in bilateral ties that had been strained over India's perceived support for Iraq after President Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait that led to Gulf War I in 1991.

The two countries will sign a clutch of bilateral agreements during the visit to strengthen bilateral cooperation in various fields.

The Kuwaiti minister will hold talks with his Indian counterpart K. Natwar Singh and other Indian leaders. He is also expected to call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Source: IANS
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