Though political relations between India and Namibia are said to be very cordial, one fails to understand why trade figures are so dismal, largely import from Namibia is minuscule?
When our Trade Minister Calle Schlettweil visited India with a delegation of business people for the Asia-Africa Business Conclave in Bangalore early 2014, it was aimed at increasing trade volumes. He was special guest of (former Minister) Anand Sharma. There are good reasons for poor trade figures. There are five million people of Indian origin in South Africa. Often the trade figures swell due to the Indian diaspora. Compared to this, there are only 150 to 200 Indians in Namibia some of whom are into business. There is not much trade with India in spite of the fact that Namibia is rich in minerals.
India has been looking for markets which seek polishing and cutting of diamonds and Namibia has diamond mines, why is there no trade of diamonds between the two?
Yes, in this case we cannot make any direct sales or export as we have an agreement to that effect with De Beers, the world renowned diamond dealers. In addition, Namibia also has local cutting and polishing industry for diamonds so a percentage of the mined product must be sold to the local Namibian market. We are looking at new ways and means for marketing diamonds. There were attempts for more direct trade. During the visit of President Pohamba to India, an agreement was signed for supply of uranium to be used as fuel for power generation to India. Following this agreement, India ratified it, but Namibia could not.
Are there Indian investments in Namibia?
We have lot of things in the pipeline that we are working on. The TATA group is looking for excavating coal from underwater deposits without lowering the water table. We have just discovered iron ore in Namibia and we are looking at Indian companies for joint venture projects in mining. Vedanta group of India has acquired Skorpion Zinc Mine (Namibia). There are so many natural resources in Namibia, but if we do not add value and export more, then it is not good for our economy. We have two gold mines. Now companies from Canada, Australia and UK are there with Exploration Processing License (EPL) to explore these mines.
Namibia and India are also in talks about a possible joint venture in setting up animal vaccine plant in Namibia. This will boost economic cooperation if we can pull this off.
Do you think there are any tariff hurdles in promotion of trade between the two countries?
I don’t see anything wrong, but I can attribute it to lack of Indian diaspora. India by itself is outward looking so we expect a lot of interaction to increase trade. We expect that our President when he comes for African Summit to India is accompanied by a business delegation to promote cooperation. Indian machines and technology are adaptable to Namibian SMEs. Indian pharmaceuticals are also very affordable. I think Indian mining experts can take large benefits by associating with Namibia. India can also benefit from the fact that we are one of the five-member Southern African Customs Union (SACU) which entitles us to free trade among us.
Is there any MoU on defence which exists between the two countries?
We signed an agreement focussing on air force establishing our own air force. We also bought helicopters from India. On an annual basis we have high level delegations visiting. Namibian officers come for training to India. We are looking at long term pilot training programs.
The Joint Trade Commission between India and Namibia formed in 1995 held its last meeting in 2008 in Namibia. There is no indication when the next will be held. What is the reason for this undue delay?
It is being followed up in India. The Commission must be polished and revived. All obstacles must be removed. India has been supporting Namibia in the area of ICT, through e-Education and e-Medicine programmes as well as the donation of computer hard hardware in all government hospitals throughout Namibia.
Has there been any proposal to relocate some Cheetahs to India from Namibia?
In 2012, a broad look was taken on the subject, but nothing beyond. We have sent many wild animals as donation to Cuba. Cheetah is a big conservation project in Namibia. At the same time I must tell you that Namibia has bagged the second position after Vietnam in tourism. Also the number of tourist visas from India has more than doubled from 80 in April – June quarter to 174 now.
Is there a direct air link between India and Namibia or a proposal for near future?
No, there is no direct air link, neither the Indian State carrier nor any private Indian airline flies to Namibia, in fact to the entire region. The only direct air link that we have is with Germany.
Are you promoting tourism in India?
We are participating in cultural events. We have 200 Namibian students in Indian universities. We have government funded scholarships through ICCR. As I mentioned earlier the new High Commissioner of India to Namibia Kumar Tuhin is very active and we will coordinate our work very well. We also plan to expand our honorary consuls representation in most major cities in India to assist and expanding our trade and investment relations. Currently, we have only one Honorary Consul in Mumbai. We are close in appointing one in Chennai, this will strengthen the Mission in carrying out its work of economic diplomacy.
The visit of our President in October later this year to India for the India Africa summit will be a big boost to our relations in all spheres.