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Zuma’s maiden visit seen lifting India-South Africa ties

New Delhi, June 2 (IANS) Trade and economic ties between India and South Africa, two of the largest emerging economies in the world, is set to get a fresh push with the visit of President Jacob Zuma here with the largest-ever business delegation of 100 members.

The re-launch of the India-South Africa Chief Executives’ Forum and interactions with top business leaders will top Zuma’s agenda during his four-day maiden visit here, via Mumbai, that will seek to push two-way trade from $7.5 billion in 2008-09 to $12 billion next year, officials said.

The forum with business leaders from both sides as members will be co-chaired by Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata and Patrice Motsepem, chairman of African Rainbow Minerals. It will be kicked off in the presence of Zuma and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma in Mumbai Thursday.

‘South Africa is seen by Indian companies as a spring board into the African continent. Our two-way trade with Africa is witnessing an exponential growth,’ said an official with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

The Tata and Mahindra groups already have a presence in the automobile sector in the Africa’s biggest economy, while United Breweries group has stakes in some prominent South African liquor manufacturers.

Nearly hundred Indian companies have set up shop in South Africa.

There had been a slight hiccup when two Indian telecom firms, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications, failed to strike a deal with Africa’s largest telecom operator MTN even after months of negotiations, as the South African government was hesitant to cede control.

This would have taken the Indian investment in the country of around $2 billion to a new height even as inward investments from there stand at just $77 million, as per official statistics.

‘Vibrant economic and commercial partnership is at the heart of our relationship. We are one of the 10 largest trading partners of South Africa,’ said Vishnu Prakash, spokesperson for India’s ministry of external affairs.

‘In fact Indian companies, the largest Indian companies present in South Africa, are in the process of investing something like $3.5 billion in diverse sectors,’ Prakash said, ahead of President Zuma’s visit.

Several major South African groups operating in India — SABmiller, one of the world’s largest brewers, has around a third of the Indian beer market after it bought India’s Narang breweries in 2000.

Then, Airports Company SA (Acsa) and Bidvest group were part of a consortium led by an Indian infrastructure company, GVK, that won the contract for the modernisation of the Mumbai International Airport in 2006.

This apart, South Africa’s News Cafe, a chain of premium cocktail bars, plans to invest over $20 million in India in the next five years to open 20 outlets. Its first ovrseas bar is inside a mall here on a road named after Nelson Mandela.

Now, several top chief executives from South African companies are accompanying Zuma on an exploratory mission in diverse areas incuding mining, energy health, pharmaceuticals, information technology, hospitality and financial services.

The visit is also likely to see the sides discuss how to push the talks for a bilateral investment and promotion agreement. Another significant deal the two sides are keen to reach is a preferential trade pact, officials said.

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