Friday, April 5, 2013

Seoul may break with tradition, plan Presidential visit to India this year

NEW DELHI, April 5, 2013

Despite India having failed to solve the impasse over land acquisition for Posco and Seoul having given up on a positive answer for nuclear reactors, new South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has accepted India's invitation to visit the country.

In a symbolic sign of the importance South Korea attaches to improving ties, its first woman President plans to visit India during her first year at the helm. Normally, first-year visits are reserved for close important partners such as the U.S., Russia, China and Japan. "We will try to do that and are hopeful. Visits to countries other than these are scheduled for the second and subsequent years of Presidency," said South Korean officials.

Posco stalemate

The Odisha government had made an unsuccessful attempt to forcibly evict tenants from land earmarked for the Posco project — India's biggest foreign direct investment deal — and last month, its Chief Minister Navin Patnaik once again assured the South Koreans of removing all hurdles. But the ground situation remains unchanged since 2010 when the previous South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was invited to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade. However, due to public agitation, he skipped Odisha where he had hoped to flag off construction of the Posco plant.

It took just a couple of rounds to seal the civil nuclear agreement with South Korea, but Seoul now seems to think the present government is not in a position to provide land for nuclear plants. Countries have been examining South Korea's potential to set up cheaper plants after a Korean company beat the more resourceful French company Areva in bagging a U.A.E. order for civil nuclear plants. As New Delhi has been unable to honour pledges of construction of plants by other countries, the Koreans do not think the time is right to press the issue.

But there is enough business at hand to keep both sides busy when the Presidential visit materialises. Days after inking the civil nuclear agreement with South Korea in 2011, both sides reopened the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which was finalised in 2009. They have decided to hold a meeting on the issue this year to settle the broad parameters after South Korea gave better offers to countries than those offered to India, said Indian government officials.

The CEPA has made both sides confident of achieving the bilateral trade target of $30 billion by 2014, four times more than $7.1 billion in 2006.

Eyeing defence

South Korea will also be pressing for an entry into the Indian defence sector. It suffered a disappointment when its bid for a jet trainer was rejected. It is now setting its sights on the artillery tenders with an offer of a self-propelled gun.

Famous for ship building, its companies have made exploratory visits here, seeking tie-ups with private Indian companies for the Navy.
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