Minister praises Indian commercial ties

Government member, whose use of Twitter network has caused controversy, says the two countries should build up trade.

Shashi Tharoor, left, India's minister of state for external affairs, at an event organised by some of his constituents from the Thiruvananthapuram Expatriates Association, in Dubai.
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India's only "tweeting" minister used the spoken word yesterday to celebrate trading links between his country and the UAE. "This is a relationship that really matters to us," said Shashi Tharoor, as he disclosed that the UAE had become India's top trading partner in goods and merchandise.

The minister of state for external affairs, whose use of the social networking website Twitter has caused controversy in India, said commerce between the countries reached US$44 billion (Dh160bn) last year, excluding information technology. "We should build on that," said Mr Tharoor, on his first official visit to the UAE. "This is a relationship that India does not take for granted. This relationship is worthy of genuine effort on our part."

Mr Tharoor met Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Minister of Foreign Trade. He said they talked about opportunities for investments, including in the equity market, the building of roads and ports, and the energy sector. They also addressed military co-operation, and Mr Tharoor said a memorandum of understanding signed by the UAE and India in July 2003 was "very much on track". India will support the UAE when it hosts the second Indian Ocean Naval Symposium next year. It was hosted by India this year.

Mr Tharoor said the countries agreed on the need to explore peaceful nuclear energy options. "The UAE has been very creative and I look forward to this area," he said. "No country should depend solely on one source of energy. Whether it is oil and gas for the UAE or coal for India, we and the UAE are trying to diversify our energy mix. "To co-operate with the UAE and other Arab countries on the peaceful development of nuclear energy and other broader renewable, clean, energy plans has only been energised by our expressed renewed support for the building of the Irena [International Renewable Energy Agency] headquarters in Abu Dhabi."

Mr Tharoor and Sheikha Lubna spoke about the free trade agreement between India and the GCC, which has yet to be finalised. Mr Tharoor called the process "slightly frustrating", but added: "Both sides feel that one side should not be blamed. Both would like to see it moved forward because there is a durable and solid basis for long-term returns." Mr Tharoor is on a three-day visit to the UAE, following a two-day visit to Bahrain.

The 53-year-old author and former United Nations communications chief was the subject of much criticism in India recently when he referred in a "tweet" to the economy section of an aeroplane as "cattle class", at the same time that his government was trying to promote an austerity drive. He also raised eyebrows when he suggested on Twitter that a public holiday celebrating the birth of Mahatma Gandhi should be scrapped.

"There are all sorts of ways of connecting with people," said Mr Tharoor. "This is a way of de-mystifying the governance and a public way of showing what I have been doing and my thoughts on public life. "It is a window as it were, into the life of a minister. This is needless controversy that discourages other politicians." Mr Tharoor, who was chairman of a Dubai-based company before returning to India to enter politics, arrived in Dubai on Monday.

On Tuesday, he met Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai, and Mohammed Abdullah al Gargawi, the Minister of Cabinet Affairs. Last night, Mr Tharoor attended a dinner at which he met Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research. * With additional reporting by Praveen Menon