The Government of Kerala is expecting the United Arab Emirates to invest in some big projects, which it conceived several years ago but has not been able to take up so far for want of investors.
After a two-hour meeting with a UAE business delegation at Thiruvananthapuram last week, Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem said the State government had placed before it four investment proposals. These envisaged a petrochemical complex near the revamped Azhikal port in Kannur district, a power project, based either on coal or gas, in Kasargode district, a road development project and a state-of-the-art financial centre in Kochi.
These projects were among those that the Industries department has been hawking around since the time of the last Left Democratic Front government.
They formed part of a basket of projects presented by the LDF government before a group of foreign investors at Chennai. Early in 2003 the United Democratic Front government placed them before the Global Investors Meet at Kochi.
Last May Elamaram Kareem visited the UAE and held discussions with Minister of State for Finance and Industry Dr Muhammed K Khirbash and officials of Abu Dhabi Investment Authority to explore the possibilities of attracting investments to the State. At that time the UAE side showed interest in petrochemicals and power projects. The Emirates Investment Board indicated it was ready also to examine commercial and tourism ventures.
The current discussions between the UAE and the Kerala government are taking place against the backdrop of efforts by the national governments to strengthen bilateral relations.
On March, UAE Prime Minister and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum had visited New Delhi for talks on boosting economic and political ties. Sheikh Maktoum, who was accompanied by seven ministers and a high-level business delegation, held discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Leader of Opposition LK Advani.
Two months later Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath and UAE Minister of Economy Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi discussed measures to provide new thrust to economic co-operation between India and the Gulf region as a whole.
The UAE accounts for three-fourths of India's exports to the Gulf Co-operation Council states.
Later a GCC-India industrial conference was held at Mumbai. This was followed by the first meeting of the India-UAE Trade Policy Forum.
The UAE delegation, which came to Kerala for talks, was led by Younis Al Khoori, Secretary, Ministry of Finance and Industry, and included Jamal Nasser Lootah, Secretary, Industrial sector, in the Ministry of Finance, Saeed Al Roken, acting Director, Industrial Development, and NRI businessman MA Yousaf Ali.
Yousaf Ali is credited with having mooted the idea of an information technology project in Kerala with UAE participation. It was this idea that eventually crystallized into the Smart City project, of which the Dubai Internet City is the chief promoter.
The Vallarpadam container terminal project is another major project in the State with UAE participation. The Dubai Port Authority is the major partner of the project.
Petrochemicals and gas-based power projects are areas which have a natural appeal for the UAE. However, the State Industries department has with it only project outlines, which are too sketchy to go by. After undertaking feasibility studies, the two sides hope to sign a memorandum of understanding early next year.
The UAE, which is endowed with capital for investment, has built up over the past three decades a strong tradition of professional management of institutions. UAE entrepreneurs have good experience of Kerala's human resources. The two sides can combine their strengths and put them to good use for mutual benefit.
A depressing aspect of Kerala's efforts to attract investments is the inability of the leadership to draw up sound proposals based on a proper appreciation of the State's strengths and weaknesses. Some of the projects being canvassed are clearly not suited to the State, which is facing severe environmental problems.
Fifty years ago Kerala offered enormous concessions to the Birlas to persuade it to set up a factory in the State. The factory provided employment for a few thousand people but in course of time the people realized that it was exacting too high a price by way of air and water pollution and forced it to close down. The authorities do not seem to have learnt a lesson from this experience. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 17, 2007.