PM kickstarts two-nation African tour on Oct 14

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New Delhi, Oct 13: Aimed at bridging a 45-year gap in bilateral ties with Nigeria, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will leave here for Abuja tomorrow, beginning a two-nation, five-day African tour, the highlight of which is the Second India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Summit in Johannesburg on October 17.

Dr Singh's visit to Nigeria is attached more importance as this is the first bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister to the most populous African country since 1962 when Jawaharlal Nehru was on a state visit to Lagos.

In fact, Mr A B Vajpayee, as Prime Minister, had visited Nigeria in 2003, but it was to attend the Commonwealth Summit.

The Second Summit of the IBSA, the fledgling tri-nation grouping of the major economies of Asia, Latin America and Africa, is expected to provide a framework for mutual cooperation in various fields and a forum for interaction on regional and multilateral issues besides South-South cooperation.

Notwithstanding the uncertainty over the Indo-US Nuclear deal in the face of Left opposition, the IBSA summit will provide a useful opportunity to Dr Singh to garner the support of Brazil and South Africa, influential members of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), for global civil nuclear cooperation.

In a rare honour bestowed only on close friends of Nigeria, Dr Singh has been invited to address the joint session of the Nigerian parliament. He will address the Senate and the House of Representatives on Monday.

''It is quite surprising that despite growing trade links, the two nations have had few top-level bilateral exchanges in the past 45 years,'' a senior official at the External Affairs Ministry said.

Dr Singh's three-day trip to Nigeria will focus on expanding economic, energy and political ties with a country that is a leading player in the African Union and wields much influence in the continent.

Dr Singh will also hold extensive discussions with Nigerian President Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar' Adua on issues of regional and multilateral interest. A substantive joint statement would be issued at the end of the visit on October 16.

India and Nigeria are expected to sign accords in various fields, including the energy sector, where Indians are investing heavily, particularly the upstream, where some Indian companies have won oil blocks. Nigeria is also rich in hydrocarbons. Indians are also in the Steel sector and are the major investors in Ajaokuta and Delta steel companies.

Besides Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma and a contingent of businessmen, Petroleum Secretary M S Srinivasan is also accompanying Dr Singh as a representative of India's oil and gas sector.

The National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Limited plans to secure LNG supplies from Nigeria to meet fuel requirements for its domestic projects. The NTPC has recently inked an agreement with Nigeria to build two plants in the country in lieu of 3 million metric tons of LNG a year.

The visit, at the invitation of Nigerian President Yar' Adua, is significant for development of bilateral trade, which is expected to increase from $7.9 billion (about Rs 30,900 crore to $10 billion (about Rs 39,150 crore) by the end of this year.

''The commonalities and complementarities between India and Nigeria would be further strengthened and a roadmap for the further development and diversification of bilateral relations laid out,'' Mr Nalin Surie, Secretary (West) in the External Affairs Ministry said.

''The visit will strengthen our traditionally close partnership with Nigeria,'' he said.

Nigeria is one of India's largest suppliers of crude oil. India and Nigeria have very similar views on reform of the UN Security Council and other critical issues on the global agenda such as climate change, the Doha Development Round and issues pertaining to development.

Dr Singh would attend the second Summit of the IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) Forum at Johannesburg on October 17. A Joint Declaration would be issued at the end of the Summit, which seeks to enable the strengthening and deepening of South-South cooperation. Several MoUs will be signed in areas such as human resources, culture, social development, health and medicines, public administration, higher education and on customs and tax administration and cooperation, Mr Surie said.

He said the Prime Minister would hold bilateral meetings with South African President Thabo Mbeki and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva after the summit meeting.

Dr Singh had met Mr Lula and Mr Mbeki in Berlin last June on the sidelines of the G-8 Summit. President Lula had paid a state visit to India early this year.

"It is our expectation that the Second Summit will represent a fresh milestone in the progressive development of IBSA," Mr Surie said.

Prior to the IBSA Summit, a series of important activities would be held in Johannesburg. These include an Academic Seminar, a Business Seminar, a Women's Forum and a Parliamentary Forum.

The Indian complement at the Business Seminar would be composed of representatives from FICCI, CII and ASSOCHAM.

India would be represented by MPs Sandeep Dikshit, Jitin Prasad, Harin Pathak and Alok Kumar Mehta at the Parliamentary Forum. In the Women's Forum, Indian delegation would be led by the Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, and would include representatives from NGOs such as Guild of Service, Women's Power Connect and a representative of Amul.

IBSA is a unique forum which brings together India, Brazil and South Africa, three large democracies from three different continents. It provides an important instrumentality for cooepration on regional and international issues of common concern such as climate change, reform of the UN, WTO negotiations, cooperation in civil nuclear energy and terrorism. The first IBSA Summit was held in Brasilia in 2006.


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