New Delhi, March 19 (IANS) India's efforts to raise its engagement with French-speaking Cote d'Ivoire - the former Ivory Coast - will see the formation of an India-Cote d'Ivoire Business Council that can serve as a bridge to the west African region.
Ivory Coast is a member of regional economic groups like the right-nation African Monetary Union and the 15-member Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) that includes Nigeria, Niger and Ghana.
The joint business council will be formally constituted Tuesday in the presence of the Cote d'Ivoire Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan, who is attending the at the 9th CII-EXIM Bank Conclave on India-Africa Project Partnership.
The India-Ivory Coast Business Council will be a leverage to access both markets. Ivorian and Indian companies together decided to form this council to facilitate business and also to be global transformers for change, to know what is going on in the market, Guy M'Bengue, CEO of the Cote D'Ivoire Export Promotion Agency, told IANS.
"For instance, when Indian companies go to Ivory Coast they have to muddle through the administration. The job of this council will be to leverage the companies wanting to do business," M'Bengue stated.
Though India's engagement with Francophone Africa has been traditionally at a low level, trade with Cote d'Ivoire has been growing in recent years as India seeks to intensify relations with a region important for its oil resources. India's total trade with Cote d'Ivoire reached $775 million in 2011-12.
"This region (ECOWAS) has oil, is growing ever so quickly and purchasing power is increasing and the regional integration provides a market of 300 million people with little or no barriers. Besides we have recently had agreements that will provide Ivory Coast products easy access to the American market, Ivorian Minister of Economic Infrastructure Patrick Achi said at the conclave.
Outlining the importance of doing business with Africa, Achi said that Ivory Coast had close links with the continent's economic giant Nigeria and a highway is to link Ivory Coast's capital Abidjan to the Nigerian capital Lagos, passing through countries like Ghana.
"If you don't make use of this opportunity, you are lost," said Achi.
In a bid to expand its economic reach, India launched an initiative in 2004 called Techno-Economic Approach for Africa-India Movement (TEAM), together with eight energy- and resource-rich West African countries, including Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, and Burkina Faso.
Oil production in Ivory Coast stands at more than 60,000 barrels per day. India's state-run oil explorer ONGC has already invested $12 million to explore an offshore block in the region.
A delegation of business from Burkina Faso is at the conclave after taking part in the 2nd India Engineering Sourcing Show in Mumbai last week.
We are interacting with Indian industry for partnering in various projects like in low cost housing, bus procurement, hydro power and construction of training institutes in Burkina Faso,a Mamadou Outtara of the Burkina Faso Chambers of Commerce told IANS.
Located in the heart of western Africa's Burkina Faso is the 4th largest market in ECOWAS in terms of population, while the market size of its high income segment ( $25,000-40,000 annually per household) is 1 million households.
"We have a project with Exim Bank of India worth $22 million for construction of low cost housing in Burkina Faso, " Yacouba Barry, Burkina Faso's Minister for Housing and Urban Development, told IANS.
Barry said the Burkina Faso business delegation at the conclave included many from the construction and power sectors for exploring partnerships with Indian business in developing his country's infrastructure.
If India is to continue playing a "catalytic role" in Africa's capacity building as Preneet Kaur, Minister of State for External Affairs, said at the conclave, such initiatives with the West African region would be crucial.
(Biswajit Choudhury can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)