It is a really a matter of great pleasure for me to join you be here at FICCI at the launch of the India-Central Asia Business Council. About five years ago Vikas and I accompanied the Prime Minister on his trip a very memorable trip to Central Asia where we were both impressed by the warmth of our welcome and came with a complex about lack of singing abilities compared to all the people we met out there but it was a really very extraordinary trip I think I had been there before but for many of my colleagues for whom it was first time it was really a sort of discovery of neighbourhood which from various reasons been as close as we should. Today, I am very happy that the nominated chambers from India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have come together to formally declare their association with a common aim to provide a platform for businesses of India and Central Asia and to collaborate and to provide an industry view to the governments of these countries on how to promote business development between us.
To understand the significance of this step, let me in a sense share our vision of how we see this region and how we approach this partnership India and Central Asia have been deeply connected in history. We share a geography which has facilitated a rich commerce throughout history; the movement of goods, ideas and people travelling in both directions. These continuous exchanges, the result of which I could see even as late as 2015 have left common imprints on our languages, customs, societies, habits and traditions. For India, Central Asia is not a distant region. It is part very much a part of our ‘extended neighbourhood’.
With the emergence of the Central Asian countries as independent states after the dissolution of the USSR, India quickly established diplomatic relations with all of them and a new chapter in our relationship began thereafter. The time had come for a resumption of our direct contacts in our common pursuit of furthering our national development goals and we have cooperated with each other bilaterally and multilaterally. As developing countries, we share common perspectives and similarity of approaches we also work together to meet common challenges such as terrorism, extremism, radicalisation, drug trafficking etc. which affect our region.
With each of the Central Asian countries, India had exchanged multiple visits at the highest levels ever since their independence. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi paid a historic visit in July 2015. He was very warmly received everywhere. In his meetings with leaders of each of these countries, it clearly emerged that there is a lot of potential in our relationship which had been left untapped and there is much more that we could be doing.
My predecessor, late Smt. Sushma Swaraj, had also undertaken a tour which took her to four Central Asian States in August 2018. She visited Tajikistan later on which she could not visit during that tour. The overall sense that we have was that the time had really come for India and all the five Central Asian States to create a common platform to exchange ideas and to see how really we can intensify our cooperation especially trade and investment and essentially translate with manifest goodwill and a desire to do more into more practical outcomes.
This led to a joint initiative in which India and Uzbekistan jointly proposed that the First India-Central Asia Dialogue at the level of Foreign Ministers take place and that did happen in January 12-13, 2019 in Samarkand. It was also decided to invite the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan to participate in a special session devoted to connectivity issues such as overland connectivity between India and the Central Asian States has to pass through Afghanistan. The strong foundations of friendly relations and mutual respect among us seven countries ensured that all the seven Foreign Ministers participated in the Dialogue which was held in Samarkand and I hope that the next edition of the dialogue we will hold very soon in India.
The India-Central Asia Dialogue broke new grounds in terms of proposing a sort of more contemporary paradigm for developmental partnership. India’s External Affairs Minister referred to India’s successful experience of development partnership with other countries and offered to extend that model to Central Asia as well. She proposed at that time was instruments and mechanisms like Lines of Credit and Buyers’ Credit could be extended to Central Asia so that we could actually take this forward through concrete projects we had proposed also the setting up of the India-Central Asia Development Group at a G2G level and the India-Central Asia Business Council which could bring together the business chambers and help leverage the B2B links so that, that would really support the G2G development partnership.
I will be hosting the Second India-Central Asia Dialogue with the participation of Afghanistan fairly soon this year. We are already working on the formation of the India-Central Asia Development Group. Officials of all the countries are engaged in this. As regards the India-Central Asia Business Council, Government of India had tasked FICCI to pilot this project. I am very very happy that this has been accomplished today. I congratulate FICCI and all the participating chambers of the five Central Asian countries who have become the founder members of the India-Central Asia Business Council. We are confident that as businesses, you would provide a valuable perspective to help our efforts towards economic development in our common region.
It will soon be three decades since the independence of the Central Asian States. Despite our excellent bilateral relations with all of them, it is a reality that our combined trade with this region actually still stand below USD 2 billion per annum. It is our sincere hope that the India-Central Asia Business Council would be able to spread the message among the industry and the business and encourage atmosphere where we can trade with each other more promote investment and look at various other collaborative opportunities in different fields that we have not tapped so far I understand that council has prioritized some sectors and these include energy, pharmaceuticals, automotive, agro-processing, education, urban infrastructure and transport, civil aviation, IT and tourism. Each one of our countries has some strength in at least some of these sectors and that creates opportunities for all of us together. I believe already in many of these sectors some initiatives have been taken and they constitute a foundation.
Kazakhstan, which is our strategic partner, and is also a major trade partner in the region with a trade turnover of more than USD 1.5 billion of bilateral trade in the first 11 months of 2019. Of this, India purchased crude oil amounting to more than USD 1 billion. ONGC had invested in the Satpayev oil block. Our oil companies are interested in seeking more producing blocks. India also purchases natural uranium from Kazakhstan and thus Kazakhstan has emerged as an important supplier for India’s energy needs. Punjab National Bank has a commercial presence in Kazakhstan for almost a decade now and that is again something which is very useful for our trade price, we have investments in Kazakhstan which are which shows India’s commitment to enhance commercial relations with the region. With over USD 400 million of Indian investments in Kazakhstan and USD 68 million of Kazakhstan’s investments in India, pharmaceuticals, tea and agro-products remain our primary areas of interest. Kazakhstan government’s ‘Digital Kazakhstan’ programme is a significant push towards building the digital economy of the region. Official delegations from Kazakhstan have exchanged experiences thus on e-governance and we certainly would urge our IT companies to look at opportunities in Kazakhstan in that field very aggressively.
With the Kyrgyz Republic, India established a Strategic Partnership during the Summit held between Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in June last year. Both countries have agreed to make a focused effort to enhance the current volume of trade which is about USD 30 million and we had in fact announced a Line of Credit of USD 200 million which will help business development and hopefully attract Indian companies and make them look at Kyrgyz Republic more seriously. Both Prime Minister and President Jeenbekov jointly inaugurated an India-Kyrgyz Business Forum, which was coordinated also by FICCI and Later in October 2019, FICCI, in partnership with our Ministry of Commerce & Industry had organized ‘Namaskar Eurasia’, an India-Kyrgyz Trade Expo in which 50 leading Indian companies participated. Kyrgyzstan organic products like honey, walnuts, vegetables and dairy products are being exported to India. The Indian market certainly is a source of considerable attraction for them.
Tajikistan, which is geographically closest to India, has also been our strategic partner for many years. Bilateral trade however which had reached USD 75 million in 2017-18 has not done so well in the year thereafter. But we have Indian companies who have invested in infrastructure in Tajikistan including in the construction of power plants and power transmission lines and a prominent hotel in Dushanbe. The country has immense potential in terms of hydropower. Tajikistan also has good potential in power transmission, transport, full chain of cotton and fruit processing, tourism and mining. The country seeks to increase the share of industries to 22.5 per cent of the GDP by 2023. It has opportunities for Indian businesses.
For Turkmenistan, export of petro-chemicals is a major stay of the national economy. Mining, refining and fertilizers, some of which is also exported to India, should be attractive for Indian investors. With about USD 65 million of bilateral trade, there is a wide scope for enhancing Indian exports of pharmaceuticals, household electrical gadgets, frozen meat, tyres etc. These efforts should continue while the geo-political complexities of the TAPI gas pipeline is addressed and the participating companies in the TAPI consortium find business solutions to mitigate various risks.
Uzbekistan is our major strategic partner. The visits of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in 2018 and 2019 have provided a strong impetus to development of our partnership in several areas. During the State Visit of President Mirziyoyev in October 2018, Prime Minister announced USD 200 million of Line of Credit for Uzbekistan and an additional USD 800 million to be made available for Lines of Credit and Buyer’s Credit. Projects including construction of highways and other water-related urban infrastructure are under consideration to be taken up under India’s line of credit. A contract for supply of uranium by Uzbekistan to India has been concluded. India and Uzbekistan have decided to start their negotiations for a Preferential Trading Arrangement. We hope this would help us reach the bilaterally set target of USD 1 billion of trade which is currently at a level of about USD 300 million. Indian companies have strong interests in exports of pharmaceuticals, mechanical equipment, auto parts, services etc. Uzbek fruits and vegetables, fertilizers, juice products, extracts and lubricants are being exported to India and these can certainly expand their market share. We recently had a good visit by Chief Minister of Gujarat to Uzbekistan in October last year led to almost 50 B2B MoUs being concluded.
Clearly, a great potential exists in enhancing trade and economic engagement between India and Central Asia. There is the challenge is to overcome the lack of efficient overland connectivity. Now part of the answer to that lies in the Chabahar port which we certainly hope India, Iran and Afghanistan it’s our hope that this will fulcrum of connectivity to Central Asian. Union Budget we have made significant allocation for the Chabahar Port I was myself in Tehran in December, we had discussed both then and with Mr. Zarif and we came here in January how to make the Chabahar port commercially more attractive I think both sides will take some additional measures to make the port in a sense more relevant to the current traffic even as we seek to push more trade on an overland basis and this of course also a part of our larger commitment to the international North South Transport Corridor and the Ashgabat Agreement and in our view the combination of all these factors could in the fairly near term actually be partial game changer for our trade with Central Asia
We are also examining the viability of air corridors between India and the Central Asian states. While flying time from Delhi for most of the Central Asian destinations is 2 hours, it sometimes takes 2 months for containers to go there. Availability of air corridors can certainly boost trade in high value segments perishable goods, agricultural and food products. I would urge FICCI and Chambers of Central Asia really to perhaps look at this with a little greater focus and they have done so far.
We also see tourism and higher education as sectors of great potential, and they should be I believe specifically be focused upon by India and the Central Asian states. We have already seen that the tourist traffic to destinations like Almaty and Samarkand have been increasing. And It is important that our Tourism industry really come up with more attractive and affordable packages for increase of tourist traffic between India and Central Asia. Medical tourism that again is something which we have seen the demand for that growing in recent years. We believe that the Healthcare industry of the two countries can actually find many more collaborative possibilities so that visiting patients actually get greater satisfaction in the treatment that they would seek. In the field of education, I would particularly take note of the opening of Indian private universities in Uzbekistan. We would certainly be very interested in attracting more Central Asian students to India both in technical and non-technical fields.
India has been undertaking development projects in various sectors in all the Central Asian states, building capacity and providing training opportunities to candidates from Central Asia under our popular Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme in both civilian and defence fields. In recent years, we have built up a tele-medicine network in Kyrgyzstan, established IT centres in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, an industrial training centre in Turkmenistan and many other projects of varying magnitude. What I would like to emphasise today is that we have committed to not just developing on that partnership but really taking it to a much higher level.
In conclusion, I would like to say that within the framework of the India-Central Asia Dialogue, the governments have been committed to a vibrant partnership but to realise this industry must play its role. As the larger economy, I particularly call upon Indian businesses to take initiatives greater interest in the Central Asian market. I hope that India’s economic reach in a region which is our extended neighbourhood grows exponentially in the years to come. I certainly look forward to a time when the goodwill, the political goodwill and societal goodwill that we have is also matched by the intensity of our business relationship. Once again, I congratulate the India-Central Asia Business Council on its establishment, and I am confident that it will be very successful.