India pledges aid to African leaders
By Muneeza Naqvi
NEW DELHI — India pledged Tuesday to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in development projects in Africa in an attempt to bolster its presence on the continent, where economic rival China has already invested billions of dollars.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking to the leaders of 14 African nations attending the first India-Africa summit, said India will provide more than $500 million over the next five to six years in grants for development projects.
"The time has come to create a new architecture for our engagement in the 21st century," Singh said.
He also said India would more than double its lines of credit to African countries and regional economic groups to $5.4 billion, up from $2.15 billion in the last five years.
Singh said India also will allow duty-free imports from the world’s poorest nations.
"India shall unilaterally provide preferential market access for exports from all 50 least-developed countries, 34 of which are in Africa," he said.
Products covered by the plan include aluminum and copper ore, cotton, cocoa, ready-made garments, non-industrial diamonds, cashew nuts and cane sugar.
Two-way trade between India and the African continent totals about $30 billion a year, having grown sixfold in the last five years, according to Indian Junior Minister for External Affairs Anand Sharma.
In comparison, trade between China and Africa surged from $55 billion in 2006 to $73.3 billion last year, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency. Premier Wen Jiabao said in 2006 that China should strive to bring the trade volume to $100 billion by 2010.
India’s interest in Africa is seen in part as an attempt to counter Chinese influence in the region.
In 2006 China hosted leaders from almost 50 African nations for the first summit between Chinese and African officials, showcasing a vigorous relationship centered around oil and aid.
In the last few years China and India have both bolstered their presence in oil-rich African nations. Last year companies from both countries won in a round of bids for exploration licenses in Nigeria, Africa’s leading oil exporter.
China is Sudan’s largest trading partner and absorbs most of its oil exports. Beijing is also the largest trading partner of South Africa, the continent’s economic powerhouse.
But Sharma denied that India’s interest in the continent was fueled by the rivalry.
"India’s engagement with Africa is time tested, different and cannot be compared to any other country," Sharma said. "We are not looking at gains, nor are we seeking to compete with anyone." India says its expertise in information technology and low-cost manufacturing make it an attractive source of partnerships for African nations as they try to modernize.
The summit is expected to end with the signing of two agreements, one expanding political ties and the other focusing on economic cooperation, Sharma said.
Those attending the summit include the leaders of South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Tanzania, Ghana and Algeria, among others.