New Delhi, Feb 2 (IANS) India's relations with Morocco got a major revival with the visit of External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid last week that also underscored the strategic and economic importance of the North African country.
India's ties with the pretty Mediterranean nation date back to the 14th century when Tangiers-born world traveller Ibn Batuta came and lived here and wrote extensively about the country and its people.
Khurshid, the first Indian foreign minister to visit the Maghreb nation, held talks in capital Rabat before visiting Fez, Marrakesh and Casablanca, and also had an audience with King Mohammed VI, a major protocol gesture from the country that is seeking to upgrade ties to with India to "strategic partnership".
Morocco was the first stop in Khurshid's three-nation week-long tour, that began Jan 30. After spending three days in Morocco, he moved on to Tunisia, another north African country, and then to Sudan.
In Rabat, Khurshid paid his respects and laid a wreath at the mausoleum of Mohammed V. He also held meetings with the head of government Abdelilah Benkirane, and the presidents of the two houses of parliament.
While India sources a large chunk of its rock phosphates and phosphoric acid requirements from Morocco for its fertiliser industry, ties with the country are not just in trade. It is a major destination for Indian companies and for tourism, and there is growing exchange of information on anti-terrorism, a good indication of where ties are headed.
During Khurshid's meeting with his Moroccan counterpart Salaheddin Mezouar, both sides agreed to deepen and expand bilateral cooperation.
India's Taj Group entered into a contract with Morocco's JK Hotels to manage Taj Palace Marrakesh, its first hotel in North Africa. In 2012, Ranbaxy Laboratories opened a new production facility in Casablanca.
India exports textiles, transport equipment, tractors and pharmaceuticals. Moroccan firm OCP (office Cherifen des Phosphates) has a phosphate related joint venture with Tata Chemicals and Chambal Chemicals & Fertilisers that produces 400,000 tonnes of phosphoric acid for export to India.
Both ministers identified new areas of collaboration such as pharmaceuticals, agriculture, automobiles and renewable energy to further boost cooperation. The two countries inked two MoUs relating to cooperation in marine fisheries as well as in environment cooperation.
Khurshid said the focus of his visit was on intensifying growing engagement. He mentioned the past high-level visits, including that of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999 and by King Mohammad VI to India in 2001.
"The new impetus to the bilateral ties provided by the Indian external affairs minister and the wide spectrum of cooperation, to cover different fields of politics, economy, cultural, defence and anti-terrorism, will take ties to the level of strategic partnership," Moroccan Ambassador Larbi Reffouh told IANS.
Morocco is keen to promote cultural and tourism ties with India as demonstrated by its growing interest in Bollywood. In November 2012, the 12th Marrakech International Film Festival (MIFF) paid tribute to the 100 glorious years of Indian cinema and screened films like "Jab Tak Hai Jaan" and "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara".
A Bollywood delegation, led by Amitabh Bachchan, was honoured during the ceremony there. Thousands of fans braved a drizzle and biting cold to catch glimpse of their favourite star. A host of Bollywood stars, including Hrithik Roshan, Sridevi and Karan Johar were present at the event.
"We hope this kind of interaction will be more consolidated in the future," the source said.
--Indo-Asian News service