India said on Tuesday it expects to reach a preferential trading deal with the Southern African Customs Union by the end of the year as it seeks to expand its economic footprint on the African continent.
India's trade minister also said New Delhi will be pursuing trade deals with other African nations as the country seeks to catch up with China which has outpaced it in trade and investment in the continent over the past decade.
"India is keen to partner with countries in Africa not only for buying minerals but also for providing technology for mining and exploration," trade minister Anand Sharma said in a speech in the Indian capital.
India and China have turned to Africa in their search for energy resources to power their fast-paced economies, but while China prefers government-to-government deals, Indian investment is mainly in the private sector, notably in telecom, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing.
"We are engaged in a dialogue with the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) for concluding a preferential trading agreement and I am confident we shall be able to do so by December," Sharma said.
SACU, made up of South Africa and its four smaller neighbours Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho, is the world's oldest customs agreement.
New Delhi is also going to start exploratory talks with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the potential for free trade pacts, Sharma added.
Annual trade between India and Africa increased 15-fold within a decade to $46 billion in 2010 from $3 billion in 2000.
"The government is determined to achieve a target of $70 billion in trade well before 2014," Sharma said.
New Delhi was also committed to working "with our partners in Africa for addressing the infrastructure deficit" in the continent, Sharma added.
Sharma's speech came after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attended a trade summit in May in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and offered a raft of measures, including $5 billion in credit lines, to boost India's presence on the continent.