Major Indian participation expected at Baghdad trade fair

Tuesday, 24 September 2002, 07:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: Undaunted by the specter of war in Iraq, India is planning to mount a major show at the Baghdad International Trade Fair in November.

Participation by around 65 Indian firms in the fair will coincide with the visit to Iraq of an official delegation led by Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran and a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) team led by Indo-Iraq Joint Business Council chairman H.S. Mejie.

"The status of direct business with Iraq is going on an even keel. FICCI has launched an effort to bring about a sustained growth and is participating with International Trade Promotion Organization (ITPO) in the International Baghdad Fair from November 1-10 to project India's technological capabilities," Mejie told IANS.

Head of PCP International, a consultancy and project equipment supply company with a major presence in Iraq, Mejie was in the capital for a brief visit to persuade more companies to participate in the exhibition and be a part of the delegation.

Around 35 business representatives from some of the top companies will be part of the FICCI delegation.

Officials from various ministries including petroleum, food and external affairs will be part of the official delegation that will be in Baghdad for four days and will take up the issue of wheat exports, which came to a halt early this year following repeated rejections of wheat consignments on quality count.

India is hopeful of pushing its case again, with Baghdad having rejected two consignments of Australian wheat of 30,000 tonnes each last month and taken a decision to import only half its annual requirement of 1.2 million tonnes from Australia.

In spite of adverse situations as well as some new Gulf neighbors having made it to the preferred countries list, India is continuing to keep its preferential position intact, said Mejie.

India's share in Iraq's project, product and services imports has reduced a bit but not been badly affected.

Under the United Nations' six monthly program, India has had an average five percent share in Iraq's total trade and projects awarded worth $4 billion.

"From $200 million, India's share in the current phase till November will be only around $110 million, firstly because Iraq's oil trade has come down and secondly because its Arab neighbours are being given more preference," said Mejie.

Iraq has kept going in the last few years not only on the oil-for-food program but also through barter trade with neighbors like Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey as these countries have exemption under a special "country-Iraq Protocol".

The drop in direct Indian exports to Iraq has to some extent been compensated by export to these four countries. Through them Indian equipment makes its way to Iraq under respective country-Iraq protocols.

"A number of engineering companies from India are exporting to Iraq via this route, with only value adding activities carried out in these countries," said Mejie.

With both France and Russia pressing the U.N. to give clearance for more foreign investment, more projects are likely to be taken up in Iraq once things quieten on the political front.

India is targeting a bigger role in the 13th phase of work programme that will start in December. Currently around 50 Indian companies have a presence in Iraq including exploration major Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).

Mejie feels this is the right time for India to tap opportunities in the Middle East. In the wake of recent political developments, Iraq is giving preferences to more of its neighbours like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

"As these countries do not have any manufacturing base, they are depending on substantial supplies from India and other countries to meet supply orders from Iraq. Even Kuwait is expected to start supplies in the near future."

FICCI has already set up a 'core group' for Gulf countries to target this opportunity and for increasing interaction and exports to the Middle East.

Source: IANS
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