India, Bahrain pledge to boost trade, energy ties

New Delhi, Feb 12 (IANS) India and Bahrain vowed to boost their $2 billion energy and trade ties at a meeting here Friday between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Bahraini counterpart Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa.

Bahrain Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid, who was on a three-day visit to India, discussed bilateral relations and issues of common concern with Krishna, external affairs ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash told reporters.

Krishna hosted lunch for the Bahraini delegation at Hyderabad House, which was also attended by Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor.

The two sides held discussions on scaling up trade and investment, Prakash said, adding ‘Bahrain is India’s important partner in energy security’.

‘The discussion was warm and marked with cordiality. They discussed mutual close ties. The visit offers good opportunity for Indian industry,’ he said.

India and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council are engaged in negotiations on ways to give an impetus to a proposed free trade agreement. Bahrain is the only Gulf nation which has an FTA with the US.

The free trade agreement will give Indian firms greater access to the $1-trillion market in the Middle East and provide cost-competitive route to western economies like the US. Bahrain is located at the heart of the Gulf and is connected to two big economic zones, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Issues relating to the welfare of over 300,000 Indians living in Bahrain also figured in the talks, Prakash said. Indians constitute about 30 percent of one million population in Bahrain.

The official said India was also looking forward to the visit of Bahrain’s King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifah to New Delhi.

‘The dates will be decided after mutual consultation,’ Prakash said.

Shaikh Khalid lauded the ever-progressing Bahraini-Indian ties.

According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham), India has seen a four-fold increase in trade with GCC countries since 2005.

The visit of the Bahrain foreign minister comes about a fortnight ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain is seeking to attract Indian companies from sectors that will provide high value services like information and communications technology and financial services, apart from seeking to improve its non-oil trade with India.

During Tharoor’s visit to Bahrain in October last year, Bahrain expressed support for India’s candidature for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council for 2011-12. Elections will be held in October 2010 for the five non-permanent Security Council seats for 2011-12.

Shaikh Khalid left for Bahrain Friday evening. He had on Thursday met Congress spokesman Manish Tewari.

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