NEW DELHI — Indian and African leaders on Sunday agreed to sharply increase bilateral trade to $90 billion by 2015 as the two sides discussed potential deals.
The South Asian country is aiming to boost its trade and diplomatic ties with Africa where China has already made major inroads by striking multiple deals, building infrastructure projects and offering soft loans.
The goal of achieving $90 billion in trade between India and China in three years "is a significant improvement, considering the fact that a decade ago the trade was $3 billion", Indian Commerce Secretary Anand Sharma said.
Sharma was speaking at the first day of a three-day India-Africa meeting in New Delhi where organisers said more than 250 projects worth close to $30 billion were being discussed.
Over 600 African delegates are participating in the India-Africa Forum Summit, organisers said, while over 500 Indian business delegates would also attend the meeting.
India has been turning to the one-billion-strong African continent as it looks to diversify its energy sources and reduce its dependency on the Middle East which supplies two-thirds of its energy imports.
Africa, despite being home to most of the world's poorest countries, is richly endowed with oil, minerals and other natural resources.
Last year, the two sides had set a target of $70 billion trade to be achieved by 2015. Bilateral trade totalled $62 billion in 2011.
At the meeting, the ministers launched the India-Africa Business Council to be co-chaired by Indian telecom czar Sunil Bharti Mittal, head of Bharti Group, and Dangote Group president Alhaji Aliko, known as Africa's "cement king".
The council will propose ways to increase economic and commercial ties between India and Africa.
While China prefers government-to-government deals, Indian investment has been mainly in the private sector, notably in telecom, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing.
In a major purchase, Bharti, India's biggest cellular operator by subscribers, acquired mobile operations in more than a dozen African countries in a $10.7-billion deal in June 2010.
India, which deployed its navy in 2008 as part of an international armada fighting piracy in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, is also ramping up its security links with Africa.