China miles ahead but Africa still lucrative: India Inc

Durban, March 26 (IANS) Admitting rather candidly that it has missed the bus to Africa and China was miles ahead, India Inc still sees much scope for doing business with this vast continent, especially in food, infrastructure, healthcare, pharma, minerals and technology.

Here for the business enclave of the BRICS Summit, the 74-member Indian delegation also feels that the negative perception the global investors have about India has yet to change, but they have only hit the pause button and not really given up on the country.
“Yes, India has missed the bus. China is miles ahead,” said Naina Lal Kidwai, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the leader of the business delegation to the BRICS Business Forum.
“But there is a lot we can do – BRICS as a group and BRICS with Africa,” she told reporters here, adding that India, too, has much to offer Africa, which is the focus of the current summit, where India is being represented by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Kidwai, who addressed the press conference with industrialist Onkar S. Kanwar and Ficci secretary general Alwyn Didar Singh, said that during their interactions with other business leaders, the perception about India’s business climate was not particularly praise-worthy.
“We just could not get past how Sistema has been hurt. It has coloured their thinking. It became difficult to get past that,” she said, referring to the cancellation of telecom licences awarded to the Russian company following a Supreme Court order.
“But overall, the businesses are more on a ‘wait-and-see’ mode, rather than ‘turn-off’ mode,” she said, with Kanwar adding that the upcoming general elections in India and the uncertainties over continuation of reforms was also adding to the gloomy climate.
As regards the proposed BRICS bank, which was agreed in principle by the finance ministers of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, Kidwai said it was an important step, since in India, for example, there was little credit available for long-gestation projects like infrastructure.
“We are still not sure how much colour will be in that but it is needed for infrastructure development. As a first step, there can at least be some credit enhancement,” she said, alluding to the lack of clarity over some crucial questions over where the proposed bank will be located and its corpus.
Kidwai also said that the business forum had decided to set up a BRICS Business Council, with five members each from each of the five member countries that will provide inputs to deepen economic linkages in the bloc.
“Our aim through this council should be to set for ourselves ambitious targets such as the one set last year to increase intra-BRICS trade to $500 billion by 2015 and then draw out a roadmap to achieve the same,” the Ficci president had said in her speech at the council meeting.
“Besides the BRICS Development Bank and the BRICS Business Council, we are also looking forward to discussions among our governments toward greater cooperation in the financial sector. There is ample scope to devise mechanisms that can be used to support each other in times of difficult market, liquidity situations.”
(Arvind Padmanabhan can be contacted at [email protected])