The gloves will be off at the the third India Africa Forum summit later this month, when African countries will push for 100 per cent access to the Indian market for their products.
Given the huge technology deficit many African countries suffer, few have high value manufactured goods that they can competitively sell to India. Uganda, for instance, has been pushing for its powdered milk to enter the Indian market without success.
According to diplomatic sources, the EAC and Comesa blocs will use India’s desire to set up a Free Trade Area in the region as a bargaining chip for a waiver of the 5 per cent exclusion list.
However, Uganda Trade and Industry Permanent Secretary Julius Onen termed the exclusion list normal.
“It is typical of all industrialised countries to open up 95 per cent of their market only for you to find that the excluded 5 per cent covers the only commodities where you are competitive. So, it is like giving with one hand and taking away with the other,” he said.
It is understood that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is keen to widen Africa’s access to the Indian market but in the face of powerful domestic interests, it needs “to find a loophole it can exploit to allow that.”
Thirty-five out of 53 heads of state and governments have already confirmed participation at the event, whose past two editions were restricted to a select group of African countries. In East Africa, Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi are understood to have already confirmed their participation.
Besides trade, whose volumes with the continent reached $70 billion last year, India will try to win Africa’s support for Delhi’s positions on climate change, its bid for inclusion as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and international terrorism. Health and skills development will also feature prominently.