India is open to free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations bilaterally or individually with African countries or Africa as a whole, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal has said.

The Narendra Modi government is committed to making Africa a top priority and deepening India’s engagement with Africa in a sustained and regular way, Goyal said in a meeting with fifteen Ambassadors from various countries of the African region on Thursday in New Delhi.

“The event aimed at fostering closer economic cooperation, enhancing trade relations and exploring areas of collaboration between India and Africa,” according to an official release issued by the Commerce & Industry Ministry on Friday.

Following the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement in 2018 between 55 African nations, to create the largest free trade area in the world, India has been considering the option of exploring an FTA with the grouping.

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Amongst AfCFTA countries, India signed a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA) with Mauritius in February 2021.

The country is also engaged with the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) for the re-launch of preferential trade agreement (PTA) negotiations. The SACU countries include Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa.

Also read: The bare truths about FTAs

Goyal encouraged the heads of missions to work in solidarity and extended a hand of friendship for the growth of the African and Indian sub-continent, the release said.

“The Minister reiterated that this is the beginning of a new engagement and reaffirmed that India would act as a trusted partner to expand trade, commerce, business, investment and opportunities between the two nations. He said India is open to FTA negotiations bilaterally or individually with African countries or Africa as a whole,” it added.

The Ambassadors participating in the meeting were from Algeria, Botswana, Egypt, Ghana, Republic of Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Morocco, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe. 

“The African continent presents vast opportunities for Indian businesses, with its rapidly growing population, emerging middle class, and abundant natural resources. Through increased trade and investment, both India and Africa can benefit from each other’s strengths and expertise, fostering inclusive growth and job creation,” the statement said.