India is embarking on a major campaign to promote its handicrafts in the Gulf with demand for these products increasing in the region.
At an interactive seminar on 'Brand Image Promotion of Indian Handicrafts' in Dubai this weekend, visiting Indian Textiles Minister Shankar Singh Vaghela said the United Arab Emirates (UAE) would be a focus area for India's handicraft exports.
"The UAE's consumption of Indian handicraft items are contributing significantly to our artisans' incomes," Vaghela said.
"When you are buying a handicraft item you are actually providing a 'roti' to the artisan behind the product."
The seminar was organised by the Indian consulate in Dubai in association with India's Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) and the office of the Development Commissioner for Handicrafts under the Ministry of Textiles.
The UAE has emerged as the fourth largest importer of Indian handicraft items accounting for six percent of India's total exports of handicraft items in 2007-08, according to figures released by India's Ministry of Textiles.
The US led the list with 32 percent, followed by the UK with 11 percent and Germany with 10 percent.
India exported handicraft items worth Rs.8.66 billion (over $195 million) in 2007-08 to the UAE, up from Rs.5.33 billion in 2002-03.
Hand-knitted and crocheted goods accounted for the majority of the exports - totalling Rs.4.12 billion - with art metalware (Rs.1.2 billion), handcrafted textiles and scarves (Rs.1.07 billion) and miscellaneous handicrafts (Rs.1.09 billion) comprising other major items
Woodware, shawls, zari and zari goods and imitation jewellery were other important goods.
When pointed out that Indian handicraft items are not price competitive as compared to goods from other countries like China, the minister said: "The 'Made in India' brand is all about quality and not necessarily about price competitiveness."
According to Rakesh Sharma, executive director of EPCH, the demand for Indian handicraft items has increased rapidly in the UAE in recent times.
"In the last few years, we have included the Middle East as a major focus area for our exports," he said.
"A vast number of these handicraft items are bought as gift items in this region."
Development commissioner for handicrafts Sanjay Agarwal said exports to the region would only grow.
"We expect exports to the UAE to grow by at least 40 percent in the next five years," he said.
He added that the UAE, along with Latin America and Australia, have been identified as important markets where major Indian festivals could be held for promotion of Indian handicrafts.
According to India's Consul General in Dubai Venu Rajamony, plans are afoot to create an 'India Mart' in Dubai in association with UAE-based real estate major Nakheel on the lines of the Dragon Mart here which is supposed to be the biggest outlet for Chinese goods outside of China.
"People have talked of creating a permanent showroom for Indian handicrafts here," he said.
"Nakheel has been talking with us about opening an India Mart, similar to the Chinese mart here, which, I believe, can be a good platform for promotion of Indian handicrafts here," he added.