India-SICA Foreign Ministers to hold talks tomorrow

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New Delhi, Jun 9 (UNI) India and the eight Central American countries comprising the Central American Intergration System (SICA) will hold discussions here tomorrow for strengthening relations in trade, economy and information technology and against climate change and the looming global food crisis.

The eight-member SICA comprises Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

Dominican Republic is an associate member of the grouping.

Foreign Ministers of SICA countries who arrive here tomorrow, will hold talks with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

They will also call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Vice President Hamid Ansari after the discussions.

On Wednesday, the SICA Foreign Ministers will have discussions with representatives of the Indian industry at a meeting organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

SICA countries have sought Indian investment particularly in Information Technology.

Individual countries of the SICA, though small, have become collectively a sizeable market and a strong entity through the formation of the grouping.

The eight SICA countries have a combined GDP of 94 billion Dollars with a population of 44 million and total imports of 34 billion Dollars.

Five SICA countries (except Belize and Panama) have established Central American Common Market (CACM) which has Common External Tariff ranging from 1 to 15 percent.

The Common Market, the growing integration and a common language --Spanish--could enable Indian companies to formulate a common strategy for the entire region, a senior official of the External Affairs Ministry said.

In 2003, India's exports to the eight SICA countries were 136 million US Dollars with a potential to increase this to 600 million by this year.

The businesses and political leaders of this region are looking at India more seriously for affordable imports, appropriate technologies and inspiration as a role model for development in agriculture, rural development, small scale industries and information technology.

The main exports from India are pharmaceuticals, chemicals, two-wheelers, auto-parts, textiles, engineering products and consumer items.

''...there is scope to export a large variety of finished products,'' the official said.

Panama provides the natural hub for entry to the region with its shipping and air connectivity, banking and logistical facilities and the largest Free Trade Zone in the western hemisphere.

India has started engaging this region in recent years.

A Framework Agreement for cooperation with SICA was signed in February 2004.

Exchange of visits and interaction with individual Central American countries have also increased.

The Government gives Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) scholarships every year to candidates from SICA countries for training.

The EXIM Bank of India has extended a Line of Credit to the Central American Bank for integration.

UNI RB RR CS1833

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