Indian president hopes trade ties will be her visit's legacy

Pratibha Patil outlines to business leaders potential to "considerably" boost Indo-UAE trade, including more co-operation in oil, at the close of her four-day visit to the Emirates.

DUBAI // India's president has forecast that trade and investment would be the prime catalysts to foster deeper ties between her nation and the Emirates.

Pratibha Patil wrapped up a four-day state visit with meetings with business leaders in Dubai and Sharjah, where she discussed the need for partnership in the energy, agriculture and food processing sectors. India is the UAE's largest trading partner and bilateral trade was worth US$43 billion (Dh158bn) in the 2009 to 2010 period.

"Trade and investment will be the cornerstone of our partnership in the evolving global scenario," she said. "There is potential for the current level of Indo-UAE trade to be boosted considerably in the coming years."

Mrs Patil told a select group of business leaders at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) that there was also room for co-operation in the oil sector.

"Both countries must consider more co-operation between their respective oil industry sectors for establishing a long-term relationship in the field of petro-chemical industries, not only in India and the UAE, but in third countries also," she said.

Outlining India's expansion plans in industry, energy and infrastructure, Mrs Patil spoke of investment opportunities in a country poised to register a gross domestic product gain of more than nine per cent and said she hoped UAE involvement would contribute to growth.

"I call upon the investor community from the UAE to participate in the growth story of India," she said. "India extends to all of you a hand of partnership and invites you to participate with us in the new phase of rapid development and prosperity on which we have embarked."

Abdul Rahman al Ghurair, the DCCI chairman, said the focus on investment was vital to improving trade with India. Dubai is home to more than 20,000 Indian companies registered with the DCCI, some of which operate across the Emirates.

"Our bilateral ties with India have been steadily growing in the past and are expected to grow to a higher level in the future," Mr al Ghurair said. "Exploring investment opportunities is a key step in enhancing bilateral trade between Dubai and India."

VRS Natarajan, who led a 40-strong business delegation that accompanied India's president, predicted that the trade volume would soar to as much as $60bn in the next five years due to the Emirates' infrastructure plans.

"I see a thirst in strengthening this relationship," said Mr Natarajan, the chairman of the state-run heavy engineering and defence equipment company Bharat Earth Movers. "The potential remains immense with plans for the UAE freight corridor and the Metro in Abu Dhabi."

The freight project in particular represented an opportunity for partnership with Indian companies that specialised in rail and heavy equipment, Mr Natarajan said. The Union Railway project aims to create a 1,500-kilometre link across the UAE from Saudi Arabia to Oman. Construction on the eight-year project is slated to start early next year.

The theme of stronger business ties was also taken up in Sharjah, where Mrs Patil inaugurated the India Trade and Exhibition Centre (Itec) at a function attended by Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, the Ruler of Sharjah. Businessmen in Sharjah hoped the centre, in the Al Khan business district, would become a base for Indian entrepreneurs and a vital link to develop new businesses in the region.

"It aims to encourage entrepreneurs and new businesses," said Sudesh Aggarwal, the Itec chairman. "The centre will provide links needed to help Indian businessmen interact with other businessmen in the UAE."

Mrs Patil also met school and university students and academics in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. One of the highlights of her visit was the inauguration of a free, walk-in resource centre in Dubai that would provide Indian labourers access to counselling on legal and financial matters.

Mrs Patil today heads from Dubai to Syria on a two-day state visit.