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India considers free trade pacts with African countries

India is exploring possibilities of entering into free trade pacts with regional groupings of African countries such as the 19-nation Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya Scindia said.

"A joint working group has been constituted with COMESA for examining the feasibility of a free trade agreement or preferential trade agreement between India and COMESA," Scindia said at an event organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in New Delhi.

COMESA is the largest regional grouping in Africa comprising of 19 countries including Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

"We are exploring possibilities of entering into such agreements with other African regional economic communities like the East Africa Community and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)," Scindia said.

He said that India was holding negotiations also with the Southern African Customs Union for a preferential trade agreement covering trade in goods.

Forged in 1910, the five-member Southern African Customs Union (SACU) comprising South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland, is the world's oldest customs union.

Scindia said that India was also negotiating a comprehensive economic co-operation and partnership agreement with Mauritius. The deal will cover trade in goods, services and investment.

The minister said that India has already signed 10 free trade agreements, and that seven more such agreements are under consideration. Five limited-scope preferential trade agreements are also in process.

"When completed, such agreements would cover over a hundred countries spread across five continents," he stated.

Scindia said that India was focusing on trade pacts with Africa and Latin America in order to diversify its export markets.

"A market diversification strategy based on the changing dynamics of growth in the world economy is necessary to ensure sustained growth of exports. The demand in traditional markets of the developed western world, North America and Europe is projected to be relatively sluggish due to slowing output expansion in these economies," he said.

India targets to increase exports to USD500 billion by 2014 as compared to USD303.7 billion in fiscal 2011-12.

The minister said that much of the growth in India's exports would come from the developing countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America.