Debating India

India, Mauritius plan Free Trade Agreement

Friday 1 April 2005, by VENUGOPAL*K

PORT LOUIS, MARCH 31. India and Mauritius today decided to pursue a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries, and set up a team to negotiate the terms.

The idea had been mooted by a joint study group and was endorsed today by the Prime Ministers of the two countries at their bilateral discussions here this morning.

The Free Trade Agreement is expected to anchor the proposed Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement that will encompass existing arrangements to encourage investment flows and avoid double taxation.

The capital of Mauritius had its fill of the visiting Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, today. The morning’s newspapers devoted several pages in the main section and supplements to detail the warm welcome he got on arrival on Thursday. Conspicuous on the traffic islands on all the main thoroughfares were framed photographs of the Prime Minister and his host, Prime Minister Paul Berenger.

In a nation that is headed for elections later this year, extra-sensitive political watchers were already reading meaning into the posters and the association they conveyed.

And at the banquet hosted by Mr. Berenger where a band had played good music, Dr. Singh went up to the artistes and shook their hands. Mr. Berenger who accompanied him was then heard remarking, "Mr. Prime Minister, why don’t you hold my hand."

Political balance

When he addressed the National Assembly, Dr. Singh seemed to provide the political balance by paying rich tributes to the memory of the island nation’s first Prime Minister, Seewosagur Ramgoolam, whose Mauritius Labour Party is led by his son, Navin, and is the principal opposition. Dr. Singh also had wholehearted praise for the Mauritius people and their "resolute commitment to representative democracy." Addressing the Mauritius General Assembly, he said that the success of the democratic experience was doubly impressive given the multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious character of the population. India and Mauritius should show history that pluralism works, and in embracing pluralism, "we embrace global security."

Praising the island for its robust economic growth helped by the remarkable sugar, textile and tourism industries, he cautioned that the relentless forces of globalisation provided challenges even as it presented opportunities. He noted that Mauritius had embarked on an effort to reinvent itself to acquire new skills and diversify into high value products and services such as information technology. The Cyber Tower, the information technology complex set up with Indian line of credit, was an example of what the two countries could build together, he said.

Among the bilateral agreements signed earlier in the day were:

1) The setting up of a joint working group for combating international terrorism. The task would be to identify international links between terrorists and their sponsors, and to find the means to prevent the flow of funds to terrorist networks

2) The provision of a $10-million loan to the Government of Mauritius for construction of a sewerage project, and

3) A Memorandum of Understanding on increasing air services between the two countries and on allowing the airlines to operate services to take passengers beyond to third countries. Air Mauritius, for instance, can extend its flights to Karachi and Shanghai or Beijing while airlines from India can fly on to South Africa from Port Louis.

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