Maghreb seeks greater economic partnership with India

New Delhi, Feb 8 (IANS) The Maghreb region in northwest Africa contributes 20 percent of the African continent's GDP and can prove a strong economic partner for India with its reserves of bydrocarbons and metals and also for tourism, said envoys of the region here Friday.

Addressing a conference on the Maghreb and India, Algerian envoy Mohammed Hacene Echarif voiced the region's unhappiness at India continuing to "look at us as an extension of the Middle East...We are not (an extension)."

"We have our own specificities, and our kind of community of Berber-Arab, not Arab..," the envoy said at a conference organised by think tank Society for Policy Studies (SPS) and the India International Centre here.

"Maghreb is not really known by India, which is disappointing," Echarif said, adding that the region which comprises the countries of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, has "only nine percent of the African continent's population but contributes to 20 percent of the GDP".

The region, despite the political turbulence, has garnered more than $35 million in FDI in the past seven years in the fields of automotives, aerospace, iron and steel among others. The Maghreb has seen a yearly growth 5.5 percent compared to 3.5 percent growth in the rest of Africa and 1.8 percent growth in the Mediterranean region, he said.

Echarif said full FTA among the countries of the region would boost communication and make it more attractive to foreign investment.

The Algerian envoy said that Maghreb should be the "next logical location for Indian companies to diversify and expand" and called for Maghreb countries to become the "new target of Indian diplomacy".

Tunisian Ambassador Tarek Azouz said Tunisia is "looking for diversification... and looking East to India and China."

Rajiv Bhatia, director general, Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), said there has been a "certain sense of neglect of Maghreb by India" and hoped the conference would be a first step in the exercise of connecting with the region.

He also stressed on the need for India and the Maghreb Arab Union to forge new links, including in the exchange of scholars.

The Maghreb has an area of over six million sq km. Strategically located, the region provides a valuable transit to southern Europe and the EU market.

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