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India, South Africa launch CEOs Forum, talks Friday (Roundup)

New Delhi/Mumbai, June 3 (IANS) With the re-launch of CEOs Forum infusing new vigour into business ties, the leaders of India and South Africa are set to firm up their strategic partnership and turn their attention to global issues like the UN reforms when they meet in New Delhi Friday.

South African President Jacob Zuma arrived in New Delhi Thursday evening after meetings the Indian business community in Mumbai.

Zuma, on his first state visit to India, will hold delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday.

Several agreements spanning diverse sectors are expected to be signed. Around 35 agreements are under consideration, informed sources said.

To enhance economic ties, the two sides will also discuss a time-line to accelerate negotiations for a bilateral, investment and promotion agreement.

Besides focusing on expanding economic cooperation across a swathe of areas, including energy, infrastructure, pharmaceuticals and tourism, the two sides will discuss global issues including UN reforms, the Doha round of trade negotiations and climate change.

South Africa and India have supported each other’s candidacy for a rotating non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council for 2011-12.

Earlier, the two sides re-launched the India-South Africa CEOs Forum in the presence of Zuma and Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma in Mumbai, a key step that could push bilateral trade to a new level.

The CEOs Forum would be headed by Indian tycoon Ratan Tata from the Indian side and Patrice Motsepe, executive chairman, Africa Rainbow Minerals from the South African side.

Zuma called for stronger ties with India and underlined his ‘unfaltering desire and commitment’ to build on relations developed since the first Indian immigrants arrived in South Africa 150 years ago.

Describing India as a ‘strategic partner,’ he said the two countries, with growing economies, were well-placed to help each other in areas ranging from financial services and IT to infrastructure and transport.

‘The economic potential is clearly evident, especially when one looks at the diversity of our sectors and industries,’ he said.

Taking a global view of bilateral ties and placing it in the context of the shift of economic power from west to east, Zuma stressed that India and South Africa could challenge the traditional economic dominance of Europe and the US, which were badly hit by the global economic downturn.

Sharma said the CEOs Forum would provide an international platform for sustained business interaction and guidance on policy issues on the Indian and South African sides.

‘India is South Africa’s largest trading partner in South and Southeast Asia and one of South Africa’s top 10 trading partners globally. Bilateral trade which stood at $1.3 billion in 2000-01 crossed the $7 billion mark last year, and is expected to touch $10 billion by 2012,’ Sharma said.

Identifying several areas for expanding business collaboration, Sharma said that education and health care were two crucial sectors where India-South Africa partnership could transform the lives of millions.

‘The much anticipated India-SACU (Southern African Customs Union) Preferential Trade Agreement will eventually lead to a free trade agreement between India, SACU and MERCOSUR, a South American trading bloc. An agreement for reciprocal promotion and protection of investments is also waiting to be concluded,’ he said.

‘An early conclusion of these agreements will provide a real impetus to our bilateral trade and investments,’ Sharma added.

He urged the South African enterprises to invest in India’s growing infrastructure projects and agro-processing industry and hoped the forum would give a dynamic push to economic ties between the two countries.

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