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Energy-hungry India seeks to tap Africa for oil

business Updated: Oct 16, 2007 12:24 IST

Keen to increase its fossil fuel supplies from Africa, India is organising a hydrocarbon conference that would be attended by oil ministers from 15 African countries.

"The hydrocarbon sector is an obvious choice for our intensive engagement with Africa as countries there account for 16 per cent of India's crude oil imports," said a petroleum ministry official.

The two-day event from November 6 is being organised jointly by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad).

According to the organisers, 15 ministers have agreed to attend the conference including those from important oil producing countries of Nigeria, Sudan, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Ghana.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday concludes a three-day visit to Nigeria, Africa's top oil-producing nation, where the two countries announced a strategic partnership and greater cooperation on the energy front.

While India has organised annual business conclaves focussed on Africa, this will perhaps be the first sector-specific conference. The conference is being held against the backdrop of India seeking to decrease its dependence on the volatile Gulf region for its crude needs and look at other sources like Africa.

India currently imports some 70 per cent of its crude needs.

"African oil is sweet compared to the heavier varieties of Middle Eastern origin, which makes refining much easier and cheaper. This makes the region all the more attractive," the oil ministry official said, requesting anonymity.

According to officials engaged in oil diplomacy, the only worry for India is the stiff competition it faces from China, which has been providing African countries a complete infrastructure package in return for access to the fields.

African oil already accounts for 25 per cent of Chinese oil imports, which is said to be keeping pace with the incremental demand for fuel in the country to power its rising economy.

China's energetic Africa policy was showcased in November 2006 when African leaders made a beeline for Beijing to attend the African Union-China Summit.

Further, the US, which is also eager to diversify its supply sources from the Middle East, is increasingly looking at the African continent and some think tanks say Africa will meet a quarter of the global fuel needs in the next 10 years.

Africa already meets 16 per cent of America's imported fuel imports.

The scramble for African hydrocarbon is not surprising with various estimates suggesting that it already possesses about 10 per cent of the world's oil reserves and accounts for 72 per cent of the undiscovered oil reserves.

Indian petroleum and gas companies have met with some limited success there - in Nigeria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Gabon.

At the same time, Indian companies have also been handicapped in their forays as their competitors from China have been more generous in their terms that, officials here maintain, goes beyond commercial considerations.