India-Central Asia Relations - September 2017

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov led a high-powered delegation to New Delhi on August 13-15. The delegation participated in the 6th Session of India-Turkmenistan Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation. Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs of India and co-chair of the Commission, and Meredov comprehensively reviewed the gamut of bilateral relations particularly in areas of energy, trade and economic cooperation, transportation and connectivity, security cooperation, civil aviation, information technology, science and technology, cultural and educational matters. Both leaders agreed to work towards fulfillment of commitments reached during meeting between Turkmen president and Indian Prime Minister during latter's visit to Ashgabat in July 2015. During the visit, Meredov also met with Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, Minister of Finance, Defence and Corporate Affairs Arun Jaitley, Minister of Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari, and Minister of State (I/C) for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan.

It was decided that India will host the next steering committee meeting of the proposed 1,814 km-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. The move appears to be an effort to stave off any Chinese interest in the project given that Turkmenistan is a close partner of China in its Belt and Road initiative.

A high-powered Uzbek delegation led by Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov paid an official visit to India on Aug 20-23. Twenty-two contracts worth more than US$80 million and 20 investment agreements worth over US$70 million were signed in sectors including pharma, leather, silk and food processing.

Uzbek Foreign Minister said that during meeting between Uzbek President and Prime Minister Modi on sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Astana in June, 2017, both countries had decided to take concrete measures on amplification of relations in all spheres. Over past five years, Uzbek-Indian trade turnover increased by more than twofold and reached US$370 million in late 2016. It totaled US$166.5 million in first half of 2017. Currently, 101 Indian enterprises operate in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan wants to export a wide range of goods to India and to attract Indian hi-tech companies for implementation of joint projects. India wants Uzbekistan to reduce import tariff on fabrics, made-ups, engineering items, leather goods & footwear, reduce the high MFN duty on RMG (Ready Made Garments) products and simplify procedure for registration and certification. The then Commerce and Industries Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman and Uzbek Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade held discussions to deepen bilateral trade and economic ties. Commerce Minister suggested setting up of a private industry led Joint Business Council to develop business relations at all levels including investments, trade in goods and services such as education and health etc. The main sectors where businesses from both sides can enhance cooperation include food processing, agriculture, silk, fertilizer, rare earth metals, tourism, footwear and leather processing. Both Ministers underlined the importance of transport & logistics infrastructure for strengthening bilateral trade ties.

Commerce Minister informed Uzbek Minister that existence of Non-Tariff Barriers such as import quotas and licensing, price and foreign exchange control, complex customs and administrative procedures, harsh sanitary norms and outright border closures limit inter-regional trade. Uzbek Foreign Trade Minister informed that they are seriously working to liberalise and simplify procedures, systems and norms and expressed hope that most difficulties would get resolved shortly.

Commerce Minister requested Uzbek Minister to simplify procedure for granting visa to Indian businessmen and tourists and expressed hope that if visa issues are resolved, tourism will also receive impetus in both countries.

During his visit, Uzbek Foreign Minister called on Vice President, held wide ranging talks with External Affairs Minister, MOS (MJA) and others. The Vice President said that the two countries should take bilateral trade to US$ 1 billion dollars by March 2018. 

An Uzbek-India Trading Hub has been established in Uzbekistan to promote trade and investment between the countries.

A high level Indian delegation headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh participated in the 9th meeting of Heads of Government of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Kyrgyzstan from August 23-25. The meeting dealt with prevention and elimination of emergency situations and approved the draft action plan for 2018-2019 for implementation of agreement on providing assistance to eliminate emergency situations. Singh said that India is committed to step up efforts to counter common challenges and threats and to deepen cooperation in various spheres. He highlighted India's role in recent Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in New Delhi and spoke on Indian Initiative of forming a coalition on risk resilient infrastructure.  Rajnath Singh moved a proposal to organise a Joint Urban Earthquake Search and Rescue exercise to improve collective preparedness. On sidelines of SCO Meet, Singh held bilateral meeting with Minister of Russia for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Elimination of Natural Disasters. They agreed to intensify cooperation in Disaster Management.

It was stated at a discussion on prospects of strategic partnership between Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and India that if EEU concludes a free trade agreement with India, its member states’ aggregate GDP may surge by US$ 2.7 billion.

 

September 21, 2017

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About the Author

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar belongs to the Indian Foreign Service and has acquitted his responsibilities in the diplomatic service for 34 years. He was Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia and has worked in senior diplomatic positions in Indian Embassies/Missions in Washington DC, Brussels, Moscow, Geneva, Tehran, Dhaka and Bangkok and also at Headquarters in India. He negotiated for India in the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations and in negotiations for India-EU, India-ASEAN and India-Thailand Free Trade Agreements.

He contributed significantly to strengthening strategic ties and promoting cultural cooperation between India and USA, EU, Russia and other countries.Ambassador Sajjanhar worked as head of National Foundation for Communal Harmony to promote amity and understanding between different religions, faiths and beliefs. Ambassador Sajjanhar has been decorated by Governments of Kazakhstan and Latvia with their National Awards and by Universal Peace Federation with Title of ''Ambassador of Peace.'' Currently Ambassador Sajjanhar is President of Institute of Global Studies, New Delhi. He writes, travels and speaks extensively on issues relating to international relations, foreign policy and themes of contemporary relevance and significance. He appears widely on TV panel discussions. Ambassador Sajjanhar is interested in reading, music and travelling. His wife Madhu is an economist and an educationist. They have a son and a daughter both of who are accomplished singers. Their son passed out of Yale University and their daughter is pursuing her PhD at University of Minnesota.