India will seek to boost its engagement with three major North African countries, important sources of phosphates and energy, when External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid visits Morocco, Tunisia and Sudan this week.
Khurshid will be spending three days in Morocco Jan 30-February 1, an equal number of days in Tunisia from Feb 1 and two days in Sudan - all Arab states.
In fact, Khurshid will be the first Indian external affairs minister to travel to Tunisia, indicative of India's lack of adequate contact with the Maghreb region, countries in western North Africa. The last Indian ministerial visit to Morocco was of E. Ahamed, minister of state for external affairs, in June 2012.
In Morocco, with which India's ties go back to the 14th century when Ibn Batuta travelled to India, Khurshid will meet with his counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Salaheddine Mezouar and other Moroccan dignitaries, including perhaps King Mohammed VI.
India sources a lot of phosphoric acid and rock phosphate from Morocco which are used in the fertiliser industry and useful in India's agriculture sector. In 2012, bilateral trade was $1.62 billion, with India's exports standing at $518 million. India exports textiles, transport equipment, tractors and pharmaceuticals. Moroccan firm OCP (office Cherifen des Phosphates) has a phosphate related joint venture with Tata Chemicals and Chambal Chemicals & Fertilisers. It produces 400,000 tons of phosphoric acid for exports to India.
Then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the last top level official to visit Morocco in 1999. King Mohammad VI paid a state visit to India in 2001.
In Tunisia, that just voted in a new constitution, seen as one of the most progressive in the Arab world, Khurshid will meet his counterpart Othman Jerandi and also call on other important dignitaries
Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring movement, has already sent two foreign ministers to India -- in 1991 and 2000. "This long overdue visit of EAM will be an interesting contact between the largest democracy in the world with a new democracy which has been struggling against odds to achieve durability," said a statement.
India has been purchasing phosphates from Tunisia since the 1950s. India is the largest buyer of Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP) and phosphoric acid. Tunisia-India Fertilizer SA (TIFERT SA) is a $450 million Tunisia-India project which produces 360,000 tons of phosphoric acid annually to be shipped to Indian companies. Indian exports to Tunisia consist of mobile telephones, earth moving equipment, machinery, articles of iron and steel, marine products, sugar, tea and pulses. During 2012, bilateral trade stood at $562.65 million. Opportunities for economic cooperation exist in sectors like pharmaceuticals, auto industry, farm vehicles and garments and textiles.
On the last leg of his trip to Sudan, which is in the Nile valley and borders Egypt, Khurshid will meet his counterpart Ali Ahmed Karti, besides attending some events.
India's ties with Sudan go back in history to the time of Nilotic and Indus Valley civilizations. President of Sudan, Omar Hassan Ahmed Al Bashir transited through India in 2003 and then president APJ Abdul Kalam visited the country in 2003. In addition to high level visits, there have been regular visits between the two countries at ministerial level.
India is the second largest exporter for Sudan. During 2012-13, bilateral trade stood at $888.28 million with Indian exports standing at $754.94 million. This year it is likely to cross the $1 billion mark. India's exports comprise of sugar and confectionery, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, machinery and equipment, textiles and apparel among other things.
India has an active engagement in the field of energy with Sudan. Several Indian companies are active in Sudan including ONGC-Videsh Ltd. (OVL), BHEL, TCIL, Progressive Construction Ltd., Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata Motors, Bajaj Auto etc.
All three countries are availing of training courses under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme. Morocco utilised 25 ITEC slots in 2013-14. There are 45 ITEC training slots earmarked for Tunisia. A good number of Tunisians availed training in India under India-Africa Forum Summit, said the statement.
More than 200 Sudanese nationals are availing of scholarships under ITEC, ICCR and India-Africa schemes and 1,500 are studying under self-financing basis. Many Sudanese nationals are also benefitting from short duration courses extended under Indo-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS). It is estimated that at any given point of time, about 3,000 Sudanese students are in India.