India increasing engagement with West Africa: Burkina Faso minister

New Delhi, Sep 2 (IANS) Most of the 15 member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have established their embassies here, reflecting India's growing engagement with a predominantly Francophone part of Africa.

Burkinabe Health Minister Lene Sebgo, here on a visit, pointed out how trade relations with his country also meant access to the wider ECOWAS market of over 300 million. Burkina Faso, a landlocked country of 17 million, is among the latest of ECOWAS members to have posted an ambassador here.

"ECOWAS leaders will meet in October to decide on community issues like the Common External Tariff for converging members' fiscal and trade policies for attaining economic integration," Sebgo told IANS in an interview.

"A tomato processing project in Burkina Faso has been successfully completed with funding from India's Line of Credit for ECOWAS," Sebgo said.

The Indian government has approved other lines of credit for on-going projects in the West African nation that include $22.5 million for public housing, supply of 135 buses for universities and a rural electrification project.

Burkina Faso's major resources are agriculture and its livestock population, while "India has been a key partner in the mechanization of agriculture in Burkina Faso," the minister said.

This has happened through supply of hundreds of tractors and agricultural equipment. A $31 million line of credit for agricultural projects has been extended to Burkina Faso under the Indian government's Team 9 initiative for nine west African countries.

Sebgo is currently visiting India to explore tapping into India's expertise in the health sector in his West African nation. "It is well known how India has improved tremendously in the health sector, while training of doctors is a big concern in our country," said the Burkinabe health minister.

He is visiting various facilities and hospitals to explore whether a team of doctors from India can visit Burkina Faso for expert assistance, as also if Burkinabe doctors can visit India for specialized training.

"There is major cooperation in the pharmaceutical sector between our two countries. A lot of generic medicines is coming to Burkina Faso from India," Sebgo said.

"Since last year a lot of Indian private sector companies are going to Burkina Faso to see if they can set up pharmaceutical and medical facilities. My this visit is to help concretise this interest shown by Indian companies," said Sebgo.

Bilateral trade between the two countries during 2012-13 stood around the $100-million mark, with the trade balance heavily in favour of India with exports of over $86 million.

"India is known in Africa also for having developed low-cost, appropriate technology. Many Burkinabe business people are coming to India to learn from India's expertise and set up agriculture processing plants, for instance. This is the contribution of India," Sebgo signed off.

(Biswajit Choudhury can be contacted at biswajit.c@ians.in)

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