ABU DHABI // India's president yesterday appealed to UAE businesses and industry to lend her nation the necessary expertise in major building projects as the South Asian giant divests itself of public sector infrastructure development.
Pratibha Patil, speaking at a luncheon in the capital attended by the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry and an Indian delegation of entrepreneurs, said UAE involvement in her country's infrastructure would be a key element of its development.
"We need investments in infrastructure, in roads and ports for growth," Mrs Patil said. "India has embarked upon an ambitious programme of disinvestment in its public sector undertakings … [and] has a huge requirement for developing basic infrastructure like roads and ports, power generation and communications, among others.
"Considerable potential exists between the two countries for further enhancing the present level of trade and economic co-operation," she said. "The UAE has become a gateway for our trade with the rest of the region."
Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Minister of Foreign Trade, emphasised the growing importance of commerce between the two countries at the luncheon yesterday, which was hosted by the Abu Dhabi chamber.
"The partnership with India will help in developing small and medium industries," Sheikha Lubna said. "We would like to see joint ventures in IT, an increase in the number of trade fairs, and joint partnerships in researching the renewable energy sector." She said that in the past few months she had led several delegations of UAE entrepreneurs to India to help them explore joint ventures in information technology, infrastructure and renewable energy that are capable of developing small and medium-sized businesses in both countries.
Fatima al Jaber, the chairwoman of the Abu Dhabi Businesswomen Council's executive board and the chief operating officer with Al Jaber Group, which oversees major construction projects in the UAE and the region, said she visited India two months ago as part of a delegation to explore just such opportunities.
"It is a potential market and we are still assessing that market," Mrs al Jaber said. "Availing these opportunities should be of great advantage to both sides.
"With the growth happening in India, this is a good time. We have been trading for a long time with each other, but now it is a different market. The economic and structural development now needs a different kind of expertise."
India is the UAE's largest trading partner. Bilateral trade was worth US$43 billion (Dh157.93bn) in 2009-2010.
The UAE is also the top Middle East and 10th-largest overall investor in India, Sheikha Lubna said. The UAE's contributions amounted to 1.4 per cent of direct foreign investment last year in India, or $1.5 billion.
The South Asian nation of 1.15 billion people is in desperate need of updated roads, ports and railways to meet the demands of a growing population and its businesses.
Mrs Patil also asked for the UAE's help in developing India's agricultural sector, which still relies on traditional farming methods.
Yusuf Ali, the managing director of Emke Group, which owns the Lulu chain of supermarkets, said he was happy to work with the Indian government in developing food infrastructure. Four processing plants in India now supply the Lulu supermarket chain in the Middle East.
"The expertise can come from here, whether it is production, packaging or purchasing," said Mr Ali.