CAIRO: Egypt and India are aiming to increase bilateral trade volume to $10 billion in the next few years from a little over $3 billion currently, according to Ambassador R. Swaminathan.
It’s an ambitious plan, but India’s ambassador to Egypt Swaminathan thinks there’s reason to be optimistic.
With Indian Independence Day fast approaching, Swaminathan sat down with reporters Sunday to discuss a wide range of topics, including bilateral trade relations.
The discussion comes at a time in which the two countries have made concerted efforts to strengthen what Swaninathan called a 2,500-year-old diplomatic relationship.
“If you see the ties. they are, in a sense, timeless, Swaminathan said.
On the diplomatic side, President Hosni Mubarak traveled last year to India and discussed relations with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Singh flew to Sharm El-Sheikh last month for the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. Both leaders met privately again there.
On the economic side, the two countries have seen a blossoming trade relationship over the past couple of years.
In the 2004-2005 fiscal year, overall bilateral trade between the countries totaled $684.7 million. By the 2006-2007 fiscal year, that number had grown to $1.96 billion. Only a year later, the trade relationship grew by more than 50 percent to $3.38 billion.
There has historically been a significant trade imbalance between the two countries, with Egypt exporting almost twice as much as it imported in 2007-2008.
Now they’re focusing on more than tripling trade volume.
Both Egypt and India have enjoyed robust GDP growth in recent years. More importantly, unlike many of the developed countries, which wilted under the pressure of the global economic crisis and have been recording negative GDP growth since, both Egypt and India have continued to record positive, albeit reduced, growth.
Swaminathan said he sees those figures as mutual economic stability, and he stressed that the two countries should lean on each other further.
“We should be able to increase the Indian investment into Egypt by $2 billion dollars in the next one to two years, he said.
Swaminathan said that India hopes to tap into Egypt’s expertise in a number of areas, but noted infrastructure development and desert agricultural methods as two areas where India is particularly interest in engaging Egypt.
Much of what Egypt exports to India is in the form of oil and gas. But both countries have committed to moving towards renewable energy sources.
India currently produces 8 percent of its energy from renewable sources and hopes to boost that number to 20 percent by 2020. Egypt shares a similar domestic goal. Swaminathan stressed the need for the two countries to work together on energy matters going forward.
He said he also saw further cooperation between the two countries based on Egypt’s nuclear aspirations.
Swaminathan said that the creation of the Joint Commission established over 20 years ago has been key to continuing the strong bilateral relations between the two countries.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit oversees the commission on the Egyptian side and many of the topics on the agenda each time the group meets are concerned with economic and trade ties.
The two countries have also launched a number of programs to promote cultural exchange. Alexandria University has linked up with seven universities in India to give students in each country a chance at international study.
The Maulana Azad Center for Indian Culture, established almost 30 years ago, has continued to play an important role in continued cultural exchange.
No numbers have yet been released on bilateral trade for the 2008-2009 fiscal year, and it’s unclear how they’ll look in light of the economic crisis. But it’s clear that the long-term outlook for this trade relationship is for heavy growth.
“We have not really realized the potential of the relationship, Swaminathan said.