India is ready and willing to assist in development in southern African countries, Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu said at the India-South Africa Business Summit 2018, noting that the region holds huge potential for trade.

Prabhu was leading a high-level business delegation to Johannesburg to participate in the two-day summit from April 29-30.

“We feel that there is a huge potential that exists between these two regions,” Prabhu said as he shared the platform with his counterparts from Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho and Mozambique at the summit.

Prabhu said there had been a meeting in New Delhi just a month earlier to explore what could be done in each of these countries. “It was quite an eye-opener for us because we realised that some of these countries have so much capability which we were not aware of, so we can actually use that and bring it into India as well.”

The minister said, “we are preparing for each and every country what it is that we can do together.” “We don’t want to offer one single solution to all the countries, but something befitting each of the countries in the southern African region,” Prabhu said.

He said India’s commitment to trade relations with Africa is “very strong” and efforts are on to find out how the credit extended for project financing in some of these countries can be further improved.

Prabhu said the steps would further benefit the countries where these projects are going to be implemented. Despite the optimism about the pledge of support from India, Prabhu cautioned that these projects “should not be overambitious”. “Often the ideas don’t work because of the very high ambitions that we start with, feeling that everything should be done immediately.

That is not possible, even for India, which is a country much larger (than its African partners).” Prabhu proposed that a Joint Study Group be set up to explore these ideas further. “The relationship at the political level is very high and very good, but we need to transcend that relationship into the economic sphere as well to benefit both the populations from that interaction,” he said.

Botswana’s Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Bogolo Kenewendo, supported Prabhu’s view about people in her country benefiting from any partnership with India.

“Development should not be just about GDP figures the development we are looking for is now mainly focused on what is being translated to the livelihoods of our people,” Kenewendo said. “The world is looking to Africa for the next growth opportunities, and it would be wise to partner with a country that knows the struggle of Africa during the colonial times,” said Swaziland’s Minister of Economic Planning and Development, Prince Hlangusemphi.

“I consider this a win-win situation based on mutual interest, which is why we encourage India to partner with our local businesses in various sectors of our economy,” he added. Lesotho’s Minister of Trade and Industry Tefo Mapesela proposed that components for Mahindra vehicles, which were very popular in the region, could be made in Lesotho.

He also sought India’s agro-processing expertise and assistance in the processing of apples, which are an abundant crop in Lesotho.