India, Qatar to ramp defence, economic, energy ties
Doha, Nov 10 (IANS) India and Qatar signed two deals on ramping their defence and security cooperation and discussed means to enhance their economic and energy ties during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit here.
The two agreements - one on security and law enforcement and another on defence cooperation - were signed Sunday evening after Singh's arrival here on the first visit by an Indian prime minister to this Gulf nation.
Meanwhile, official sources said Monday that a free trade agreement between India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is likely to be signed as early as 2009.
Manmohan Singh, who arrived here Sunday evening from Oman on the last leg of his three-day Gulf tour, held extensive discussions with Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabor Al Thani to enhance existing ties in the fields of energy, economy and trade.
India annually imports 7.5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar.
The discussions focused on how to upgrade the energy deal between the two sides from a buyer-seller relationship to a more sustainable relationship involving investments leading to a long-term partnership.
The security and law enforcement agreement lays out the framework for sharing of information and database on threats posed by terrorists, money laundering and smuggling of narcotics.
The pact on defence cooperation lays out a structure for training programmes by the two sides, exchange of goodwill missions and experts.
The two sides also reviewed a number of regional and international issues of mutual concern.
On Monday, Manmohan Singh met with Qatar's ruler Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani.
He also met members of the expatriate Indian community at a reception organised by the Indian embassy in Doha, during the course of which he stated that India will eventually return to a 9 percent growth trajectory despite the current global financial crisis because of its inherent strengths and size of its.
'The present international economic and financial situation has clouded some of the prospects of growth in the near term,' Singh said.
'I am, however, confident that the long term outlook for our economy remains strong and robust. Our inherent strengths, the large size of our markets, the diversified industrial base we possess, and the strong and dynamic private sector will eventually allow us to return to a 9 percent growth trajectory,' he added.
At 420,000, Indians comprise the largest expatriate community in this Gulf nation.
Earlier, addressing a gathering of the Omani business community in Muscat Sunday, Singh had said that despite the global economic downturn, the Indian economy was expected to maintain a growth rate of seven to 7.5 percent.
Speaking about the FTA, the source said: 'Next year, Oman is going to occupy the chair of the GCC and the prime minister has said that we should be ready to sign the FTA anytime in 2009.'
Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) comprise the GCC.
The FTA will essentially include three things - goods, investments and services.
Briefing the media accompanying the prime minister's delegation, Secretary (East) N. Ravi said a decision on the FTA is likely to be taken as early as December this year.
'In terms of services as well as investments, apparently there is a reasonable degree of overlap,' he said.
'In terms of goods, the Omani side is examining the Indian offer of various concessions we will give to different categories of goods,' Ravi added.
Oman was the first country to propose an FTA between the Gulf and India.
The FTA between the two sides has been in the works for a long time now, but the need to expedite it has risen given the current global financial crisis.
The prime minister was accompanied on the visit by Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi and Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed.
Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia and National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan were also part of the delegation.
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