Pranab to embark on three-day visit to UAE tomorrow

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New Delhi, May 11 (UNI) External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will begin a three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from tomorrow during which he will hold discussions with the top UAE leadership on strengthening bilateral ties.

The External Affairs Minister will address the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) and also meet Indian and Emirati businessmen in Dubai.

''The visit is expected to strengthen bilateral ties and provide an opportunity to exchange views at a high level,'' an External Afffairs Ministry spokesman said here.

India and UAE have close friendly, deep-rooted and multi-faceted ties. India and UAE bilateral trade was about 20.5 billion dollars in 2006-07 with Indian exports being 12 billion and imports 8.6 billion dollars.

There are several Indian public and private sector companies working in the UAE. Several UAE companies are present in India and have invested in the infrastructure sector.

About 1.5 million Indians live and work in the UAE.

India and UAE last month signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the revised air service operations between the two countries.

Under the new agreement, Calicut will now be an additional point of call for the designated airlines of the UAE.

The agreement will add 23,000 seats per week, in each direction.

Discussions on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are expected to make a substantial progress within a year.

Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, who visited Dubai last month, said the ongoing negotiations, aimed at boosting their two-way non-oil trade, could not make progress as both sides engaged with the WTO talks.

The two sides, seeking to boost bilateral trade, have been discussing the FTA since August 2004 when they signed a 'Framework Agreement on Economic Cooperation.' UAE has shown interest in investing in the 90 billion dollar Mumbai-Delhi Industrial Corridor project.

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