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PM talks business

Beijing, June 24: Borders and boundaries may take time to redraw, but doing business with China can no longer wait.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today made it clear that trade and business ties with China are what will shape, not just the future, but also the present of bilateral relations between the two countries.

During their talks yesterday, Vajpayee and his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, therefore decided to form a joint study group of economists and officials from both countries to strengthen existing economic ties, identify “new areas of promise” and draw up a “comprehensive perspective plan” for the new initiative.

It is no coincidence that the 100-member business delegation travelling with Vajpayee is the biggest such team accompanying any Indian Prime Minister on an official visit abroad in a long time.

Apparently, the business delegation’s first reactions to the new Chinese adventure were positive. “We needed signals that we could not only do business here but also look for an equal response from the Chinese to do business with us. We’ve got the right signals this time,” Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) president Anand Mahindra told visiting Indian journalists.

The Prime Minister took care to emphasise that it is not a matter merely between the governments. Private businesses from both countries will be involved in the process.

Vajpayee, however, identified some areas for immediate attention — passenger and cargo transportation links, banking support structures and trade facilitation measures.

Giving the keynote address at a seminar on China-India economic cooperation and development, organised by the China Council for Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), this afternoon, Vajpayee minced no words in expressing his admiration for China’s striking economic progress over the past two decades.

The CII and the CCPIT later signed a memorandum of understanding to boost trade and investment in both countries.

Vajpayee said he had personally witnessed three phases of the world’s fastest growing economy during his three visits here — as external affairs minister in 1979, as a member of an Indian parliamentary delegation in 1993 and now as Prime Minister.

Although Vajpayee referred to the “astonishing” growth of India-China bilateral trade by 70 per cent during the first four months of this year, both sides agreed that this was not a big enough quantity.

Even when the two countries achieve the $10 billion worth of bilateral trade by 2005, as was agreed during former Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji’s visit to New Delhi in January 2000, it would still be a small amount by the standards of international trade.

Even the agreement on expansion of border trade, signed yesterday between external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha and Chinese commerce minister Lu Fuyuan, may not be enough to give a really big push to bilateral trade.

Border trade accounts for a paltry Rs 9 crore out of last year’s total trade of Rs 24,000 crore.

But it goes to show, Indian officials here argued, that there was little basis for the fear in some circles in India that expansion of trade with China would result in the Chinese dumping their cheap goods in the Indian market.

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