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Agri-tech startups crucial to India’s economy

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While laying emphasis on the use of modern technology in the agricultural sector, Union Minister Jitendra Singh on Friday said agri-tech startups are critical to India’s future economy. Addressing the third edition of “TechBharat” on the theme “Transforming India’s FoodTech, AgriTech and Agronomic Landscape” at CSIR-CFTRI campus here, Singh said, “A new wave of agri-tech startups has come up in India in the last few years due to enabling policy environment provided by Modi government to address the problems of Indian agriculture such as supply chain management, use of outdated equipment, improper infrastructure, and the inability of farmers to access a wider range of markets with ease.” The Minister noted that young entrepreneurs are now quitting their jobs in IT sectors and MNCs to establish their own startups as there is realization that investing in agriculture is one of the very few safe and profitable businesses.

He said, “Agri-tech startups are providing innovative ideas and affordable solutions to a number of challenges faced all across the agricultural value chain and it has the potential to change the face of the Indian agriculture sector and eventually raise farmers’ incomes. These startups and budding entrepreneurs have become the missing link between the farmers, input dealers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers connecting each of them to each other and providing strong marketing linkages and quality produce on time.” Singh emphasized that agriculture is one of the important pillars of the Indian economy as 54 per cent of the Indian population depends directly on agriculture and it accounts for around 20 per cent of GDP. “Although agriculture in India has majorly seen steady growth in the last few years, not much has been done in encouraging young, fresh and unique innovative ideas in the sector,” he said.

Singh strongly advocated the use of modern and new technology in the agricultural sector and pointed out that countries like Israel, China, and the US have transformed several agriculture practices in their country with the use of technology. He said these countries have demonstrated that an assortment of technology like hybrid seeds, precision farming, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, geo-tagging and satellite monitoring, mobile apps and farm management software can be applied at every stage in the agriculture process to increase productivity and farm incomes The Minister informed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched 100 Made-in-India agricultural drones across the country in February this year, which carried out farm operations in unique simultaneous flights.

He also referred to the Budget speech of Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, wherein she said that the use of ‘Kisan Drones’ will be promoted for crop assessment, digitization of land records, spraying of insecticides, and nutrients. The Minister added that drones can also be used for assessing the health of any vegetation or crop, field areas inflicted by weeds, infections and pests and based on this assessment, the exact amounts of chemicals needed to fight these infestations can be applied thereby optimizing the overall cost for the farmer.

He said that many agri-tech startups in India are mainly in the marketplace segment where e-commerce companies provide fresh and organic fruits and vegetables procured directly from farmers, but recently many startups have come up providing innovative and sustainable solutions for farmers’ problems. He said that startups are now providing solutions such as biogas plants, solar-powered cold storage, fencing and water pumping, weather prediction, spraying machines, seed drills and vertical farming, which is bound to increase farmers’ income.

He noted that internet usage, increase in smartphone penetration, the emergence of startups and various government initiatives in rural areas are facilitating fast technology adoption in the farm sector. “The technology solutions for most issues in agriculture are present but the challenge is for these solutions to reach every farmer on a larger scale and not just only one farmer. It is time now that we adopt technology in this very crucial sector of our economy and on a mass scale, so that the agriculture and the farming community benefit and in turn the Indian economy also grows rapidly,” the Minister added. 

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India and Argentina collaborate on exploration agreement

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In a significant move towards securing a sustainable and diversified supply chain for critical minerals, the Government of India has recently entered into a groundbreaking agreement with Argentina for the exploration and mining of lithium. This rare element plays a crucial role in advancing the nation’s commitment to an environmentally friendly future, particularly in the development of rechargeable batteries for various electronic devices and electric vehicles.

The agreement, signed between Khanij Bidesh India Limited (KABIL) and the state-owned enterprise of Catamarca Province, Argentina, marks a historic milestone for both countries. Argentina, possessing over half of the world’s lithium reserves along with Chile and Bolivia, stands as a key partner in India’s pursuit of lithium resources.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this marks India’s first-ever lithium exploration and mining project conducted by a government company. KABIL will spearhead the exploration and development of five lithium brine blocks, covering an extensive area of about 15,703 hectares in Argentina’s Catamarca province.

Pralhad Joshi, Union Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Coal and Mines, expressed the significance of this achievement, stating that the project would not only bolster India’s lithium supplies but also contribute to the development of lithium mining and downstream sectors in both nations. The exploration and exclusivity rights acquired by KABIL pave the way for evaluating, prospecting, and exploring the lithium blocks, with the potential for commercial production upon discovery of lithium minerals.

The project, costing approximately Rs 200 crores, signifies India’s second international partnership for critical minerals, following the 2022 memorandum of understanding with Australia. With over 95% of India’s lithium imports currently originating from China and Hong Kong, this strategic move aims to reduce dependence on imports and establish self-reliance in meeting the growing demand for clean energy.

Argentina, holding 20% of the world’s lithium resources and ranking second only to Bolivia, is part of the renowned “Lithium Triangle” along with Chile. The collaboration between India and Argentina not only addresses India’s lithium demands but also introduces technical and operational expertise in brine-type lithium exploration, exploitation, and extraction.

This initiative aligns with India’s broader goal of attaining net-zero emissions by 2070 and positioning itself as a manufacturing hub for electric vehicles. The exploration and development agreement for lithium blocks, coupled with India’s inaugural critical minerals auction drive, underscores the nation’s commitment to securing the supply chain for critical and strategic minerals essential for various industries, marking a significant stride towards sustainable and clean energy solutions.

The signing of the agreement has been commended as a strategic move, not only for securing a vital resource but also for fostering stronger bilateral ties between India and Argentina. Union Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi emphasized the historic nature of the deal, envisioning it as a pivotal chapter in the relationship between the two nations. The collaboration is anticipated to play a crucial role in driving the energy transition towards a more sustainable future, aligning with global efforts to achieve net-zero goals.

With Argentina being the second-largest holder of lithium resources globally and India’s pursuit of lithium for diverse applications, ranging from battery technology to aerospace, this partnership holds immense potential. The involvement of Catamarca Minera Y Energética Sociedad Del Estado (CAMYEN), a state-owned mining and energy company in Argentina, adds a layer of collaboration between the public sectors of both countries, fostering knowledge exchange and technical expertise.

As Khanij Bidesh India Limited (KABIL) prepares to set up a branch office in Catamarca, Argentina, the project’s cost of approximately Rs 200 crores underscores the scale and significance of this international venture. This move is not just a stride towards reducing India’s reliance on lithium imports but also a step towards fostering global cooperation in sustainable resource management and responsible mining practices.

India’s foray into lithium exploration and mining abroad, following the partnership with Australia, reflects a comprehensive strategy to secure critical minerals for its burgeoning electric vehicle and clean energy industries. The government’s simultaneous efforts to initiate a critical minerals auction drive domestically further demonstrate its commitment to achieving self-reliance and sustainability in the realm of mineral resources. As the exploration and development of lithium blocks progress, the collaboration with Argentina is poised to be a transformative force, propelling India’s clean energy ambitions and bolstering its role on the global stage in the pursuit of a greener future.

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Gates foundation pours $8.6 billion into medical breakthroughs

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has unveiled its largest annual budget of $8.6 billion for 2024, with a significant portion dedicated to advancing health innovations. Amid global declines in health budgets, the foundation aims to utilize the additional funding to drive global health innovations, particularly benefiting vulnerable populations like newborns and pregnant women in low-income communities. This budget reflects a 4% increase from the previous year and a substantial $2 billion rise compared to the 2021 budget. The foundation also commits to increasing its annual spending to $9 billion by 2026.

As global contributions to health in the lowest-income countries stall, the Gates Foundation emphasizes the need for renewed efforts. Bill Gates, co-chair of the foundation, stresses the urgency of addressing preventable deaths of newborns and young children due to their place of birth. The foundation, since its establishment in 2000, has been dedicated to tackling global inequities, focusing on areas like gender equality, agricultural development, and public education.

A core focus for the foundation has been reducing health inequities by investing in new tools and strategies to combat infectious diseases and leading causes of child mortality in low-income nations. Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the foundation, underscores the significance of investing in global health as an investment in the future. Despite remarkable progress, millions of children in poor countries still die from preventable diseases, and hundreds of thousands of women die in childbirth, with available tools to prevent such deaths.

The foundation acknowledges the challenges faced by low-income countries and emphasizes the timeliness of recommitting to saving lives and improving livelihoods. Bill Gates, at the World Economic Forum, will showcase health innovations funded by the foundation, emphasizing the role of artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies in transforming health. Gates calls on global leaders, philanthropists, and CEOs to collaborate in rebuilding global trust and solidarity to protect the most vulnerable populations.

The foundation anticipates that proper funding for innovations in the research and development pipeline could contribute to a 40% reduction in maternal deaths in the lowest-income countries by the end of the decade. Additionally, it aims to further decrease preventable child deaths, highlighting the transformative potential of well-funded health innovations on a global scale.

The Gates Foundation’s substantial budget allocation underscores its commitment to leveraging innovation as a catalyst for transformative change in global health. By directing funds towards groundbreaking initiatives, the foundation aims to not only save lives but also address systemic challenges faced by vulnerable populations. The emphasis on health innovations aligns with the foundation’s overarching goal of tackling entrenched inequalities and fostering sustainable development.

Despite significant strides, maternal and child health remains a critical concern, particularly in low-income countries. The Gates Foundation’s targeted approach seeks to bridge existing gaps in healthcare accessibility, striving to reduce maternal mortality by 40% in the world’s poorest nations by the end of the decade. By focusing on evidence-based solutions and effective interventions, the foundation envisions a future where preventable deaths among mothers and children are significantly curtailed.

As the global health landscape faces multifaceted challenges, the Gates Foundation’s leadership emerges as a pivotal force in philanthropy. The commitment to increasing annual spending to $9 billion by 2026 positions the foundation as a key player in shaping health outcomes worldwide. The call for collaboration with global leaders, philanthropists, and corporate entities underscores the collective responsibility required to navigate complex health issues and build a more resilient global health ecosystem.

Bill Gates’ emphasis on the role of artificial intelligence (AI) and emerging technologies signals a shift in the paradigm of healthcare delivery. The foundation envisions AI playing a crucial role in transforming health outcomes, especially in resource-constrained settings. Harnessing the potential of AI can lead to more efficient healthcare systems, improved diagnostics, and innovative solutions that address the unique challenges faced by communities in low-income countries.

In the wake of ongoing global challenges, Bill and Melinda Gates emphasize the need for collective action to rebuild trust and solidarity. The foundation’s plea for global leaders and stakeholders to unite in safeguarding vulnerable populations reflects a commitment to fostering a collaborative approach in addressing pressing health issues. The Gates Foundation’s advocacy for a strengthened, resilient world built on the foundation of good health reinforces the interconnectedness of global well-being and the imperative for shared responsibility.

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Microsoft overtakes Apple as world’s most valuable company

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Microsoft has overtaken Apple as the world’s largest company by market capitalization, reaching a record-high of $2.887 trillion, compared to Apple’s $2.875 trillion. The shift is attributed to Microsoft’s strategic emphasis on generative artificial intelligence (AI), a sector gaining increasing favour among investors. Microsoft, alongside Nvidia and Amazon, has experienced substantial market surges over the past year, with its market value rising by over $1 trillion. Analysts draw parallels between this trend and the early 2000s when technology and internet companies replaced consumer and financial firms at the forefront of the market.

Microsoft’s robust performance is linked to its deep focus on generative AI, with the company incorporating OpenAI’s technology into its suite of productivity software. This move contributed to a rebound in its cloud-computing business in the July-September quarter. Microsoft’s AI leadership positions it to challenge Google’s dominance in web search. The company’s market cap milestone reflects the growing importance of AI-focused tech players in the market, with notable increases seen in the market capitalizations of Nvidia, Meta Platforms, and Alphabet over the past year.

Apple grapples with challenges, including diminishing demand for its flagship product, the iPhone. The company is particularly struggling in the crucial Chinese market, where economic recovery has been slow, and competition from Huawei is intensifying, impacting Apple’s market share. The contrasting fortunes of Microsoft and Apple underscore the shifting dynamics in the tech industry, with AI-focused companies gaining prominence and reshaping the landscape of market leadership.

The ascendancy of Microsoft in market capitalization highlights the growing significance of artificial intelligence in shaping market dynamics. Investors are showing increased favour towards companies with a strategic focus on AI, recognizing its transformative potential across various industries. Microsoft’s commitment to integrating OpenAI’s technology into its suite of productivity software has not only fuelled its market value but also positioned it as a key player in the evolving landscape of AI-driven innovations.

Analysts drawing parallels between the current trend and the early 2000s underscore a strategic shift where technology and internet-focused companies are reclaiming dominance in the market. This transition echoes a time when consumer and financial firms relinquished their top positions to emerging tech giants. Microsoft’s surge to the top signals a broader transformation in investor sentiment, placing higher value on innovation-driven sectors, particularly those at the forefront of artificial intelligence.

Apple’s position, once synonymous with tech market supremacy, is facing headwinds attributed to waning demand, particularly for its flagship product, the iPhone. The challenges are accentuated in critical markets like China, where economic recovery is sluggish, and competition from local players like Huawei is intensifying. As Microsoft’s AI-centric approach propels it to new market heights, Apple grapples with repositioning itself amidst changing consumer preferences and an evolving technological landscape.

The notable market cap surges of AI-focused tech players such as Nvidia, Meta Platforms, and Alphabet underscore the rising stars in the AI space. Investors are increasingly recognizing the potential of companies leading the way in artificial intelligence, a transformative force shaping industries from cloud computing to web search. The robust performance of these entities reflects the growing appetite for AI-driven innovation and the strategic positioning of companies that have effectively leveraged AI technologies in their business models.

Microsoft’s ascent to the top spot in market capitalization has broader implications for the tech industry and beyond. The recognition of AI as a central driver of value and innovation signals a shift in how investors perceive and prioritize companies. As technology continues to evolve, companies that successfully integrate AI into their operations are likely to see sustained growth, redefining the competitive landscape and influencing investment strategies in the years to come.

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ETF frenzy hits record, election year surge expected

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India-focused exchange-traded funds (ETFs) experienced a record-high net inflow of $8.6 billion in 2023, surpassing the previous peak of $7.4 billion in 2021. Analysts anticipate the momentum to persist as general elections approach, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi expected to seek a rare third term. Despite the political landscape, investors seem unfazed, attributing the strong inflows to optimism surrounding India’s economic progress and significance rather than perceiving the upcoming elections as a political risk.

Foreign investors are increasingly drawn to Indian markets for diversification amid concerns about China’s economic growth slowdown and ongoing tensions between China and the United States. India’s annual growth forecast of 7.3% for the fiscal year ending in March outpaces that of other major global economies. Indian shares have reached all-time highs, and the country’s NSE Nifty 50 index surged by 20% in 2023. Foreign portfolio investors recorded record monthly purchases of equities in December, reinforcing hopes for political continuity following key state victories by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

While the inflows are indicative of growing optimism, some analysts caution about India’s high valuations. Investors are advised to be selective, focusing on companies that can outperform expectations. The allure of India in the emerging markets landscape is expected to grow further as China’s growth rate slows, making India an attractive destination for investors seeking opportunities in a dynamic economic environment. U.S.-listed ETFs focused on India garnered more than half of the global India-focused fund flows in 2023, offering foreign investors easier access to Indian markets compared to direct equity investments. The election year in 2024 is seen as a potential tailwind for Indian equities, providing both spending opportunities and a promise of economic policy continuity.

India-focused exchange-traded funds (ETFs) marked a historic milestone in 2023 with net inflows soaring to a record-high of $8.6 billion, surpassing the peak seen in 2021. Analysts are buoyant about the momentum continuing into the election year, with general elections expected by May and Prime Minister Narendra Modi eyeing a rare third term. Despite the political uncertainty, investors appear undeterred, interpreting the robust inflows as a testament to the broader optimism surrounding India’s economic trajectory, downplaying concerns related to the upcoming elections.

India’s appeal to foreign investors is underscored by its robust annual growth forecast of 7.3% for the fiscal year ending in March, outpacing other major global economies. The nation’s stock market has reached unprecedented highs, with the NSE Nifty 50 index surging by an impressive 20% in 2023. Foreign portfolio investors registered record monthly equity purchases in December, further bolstering expectations of political stability following key victories by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in crucial state elections.

The allure of Indian markets is magnified as investors seek diversification amid concerns surrounding China’s economic growth slowdown and ongoing geopolitical tensions. India’s resilience and dynamism make it an increasingly attractive destination for global investors looking for opportunities in emerging markets. The country’s economic outlook and strategic positioning have fuelled confidence, making India-focused ETFs a favoured choice for those seeking exposure to the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

While the inflows signal growing confidence, cautionary notes emerge regarding India’s relatively high valuations. Analysts advise investors to adopt a selective approach, focusing on companies with the potential to outperform expectations. As India’s economic prowess gains prominence, balancing optimism with a discerning investment strategy becomes imperative to navigate the complexities of the market.

Global investors’ increasing recognition of India’s economic promise is evident in the fact that more than half of the global India-focused fund flows in 2023 were directed to U.S.-listed ETFs. The ease of access to Indian markets through ETFs, compared to the complexities of direct equity investments, has contributed to the significant global interest. As 2024 unfolds as an election year, many foresee it acting as a potential tailwind for Indian equities, not only offering spending opportunities but also promising sustained economic policy continuity in the years ahead.

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PM Modi empowers 1 lakh tribals with Rs 540 crore launch

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured inclusive development on Monday, stating that the benefits of welfare schemes must reach everyone, even those in the remotest areas, as he released the first instalment of Rs 540 crore for one lakh beneficiaries under the Pradhan Mantri Janjati Adivasi Nyaya Maha Abhiyan (PM-JANMAN). Highlighting a decade of dedication to the welfare of the poor, Modi emphasized the substantial increase in the budgets of welfare schemes for Scheduled Tribes and the growth in scholarships for tribal students. The government aims to construct over 500 Eklavya model schools to enhance educational opportunities for tribal communities.

Prime Minister Modi credited President Droupadi Murmu, India’s first tribal woman head of state, for her guidance in formulating the PM-JANMAN scheme. He noted that Diwali celebrations extend to the homes of one lakh families benefiting from the rural housing scheme, emphasizing the joy brought by the first instalment of funds for constructing their own houses.

Modi underscored the government’s commitment to ensuring that extremely backward sections of the tribal population benefit from every welfare scheme. He highlighted the government’s efforts in constructing more than four crore pucca houses for the poor, reaching out to those previously ignored, and emphasized the worship of marginalized communities.

During the event, Prime Minister Modi interacted with beneficiaries of PM-JANMAN who shared positive changes in their lives, including access to cooking gas, electricity, piped water, and housing. He reiterated the government’s endeavour to leave no one out of its welfare schemes, emphasizing the comprehensive approach to socio-economic development.

The first instalment of Rs 540 crore was released for beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin under the PM-JANMAN scheme. Launched for Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs), the scheme focuses on 11 critical interventions through nine ministries, with a budget of approximately Rs 24,000 crore. The aim is to improve the socio-economic conditions of PVTGs by providing basic facilities such as safe housing, clean drinking water, sanitation, education, health, nutrition, electricity, road connectivity, and sustainable livelihood opportunities.

Aligned with the vision of Antyodaya to empower the last person at the last mile, PM-JANMAN represents the government’s commitment to uplift PVTGs. The Prime Minister reaffirmed his dedication to the socio-economic welfare of these vulnerable groups and the ongoing efforts to address their basic needs and uplift their living standards.

Prime Minister Modi’s interaction with beneficiaries showcased the tangible impact of government initiatives on improving the lives of individuals. The release of the first instalment, totalling Rs 540 crore, reflects the government’s sustained commitment to addressing the housing needs of rural communities. Additionally, the acceptance of proposals worth Rs 4700 crore by various ministries underscores a comprehensive approach, covering pucca houses, roads, girls’ hostels, Anganwadi centers, medical units, and multipurpose centers. This acceptance signifies a proactive stance in addressing the pressing needs of extremely backward regions.

The overarching vision of inclusive development was further emphasized as Prime Minister Modi discussed the significance of Diwali celebrations reaching the homes of families benefitting from the housing scheme. This symbolic connection between a national festival and the distribution of funds underscores the government’s commitment to ensuring that the fruits of development and welfare schemes reach every household, fostering a sense of joy and prosperity.

The launch of PM-JANMAN and its subsequent implementation highlight the practical realization of the Antyodaya vision, where the welfare of the most marginalized and vulnerable communities takes precedence. With a substantial budget allocation and a focus on critical interventions, the scheme reflects the government’s intent to create a holistic impact on the socio-economic conditions of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups. Prime Minister Modi’s direct engagement with beneficiaries reinforces the message that the government is not only delivering promises but actively seeking feedback to fine-tune its initiatives for maximum impact and inclusivity.

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India, UAE to tap new propositions from industry, business to enhance partnership

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India and UAE are ambitiously charting a course to expand bilateral trade to USD 100 billion and both the countries are looking for newer propositions from industry and business to further enhance their partnership. While bilateral trade has increased under the India UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), key collaborations such as the India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor, initiatives to promote Rupay and facilitate direct trade between rupee and dirham have injected a strong momentum in the relations.

The India-UAE CEPA, a comprehensive agreement that addresses every facet of India’s economic relations with the UAE, including trade, investments, healthcare, digital trade, government procurement, intellectual property rights, etc, completed one year on 1 May, 2023. The agreement eliminates 80 per cent tariffs on Indian and UAE goods and all the tariffs will be eliminated within 10 years. The pact between the nations gives the UAE zero-duty access to 90 per cent of India’s exports to the country.  The CEPA is expected to increase the total value of bilateral trade in goods to over USD 100 billion and trade in services to over USD 15 billion within five years.

After a year of the agreement, India and UAE’s trade has shown fruitful results. During the CEPA implementation period (from May 22 to Mar 23), bilateral trade increased from USD 67.5 billion (May 21-Mar 2022) to USD 76.9 billion (May 22-Mar 2023), registering an annual increase of 14 per cent. India exported goods worth USD 31.3 billion to the UAE during FY 22-23 with a YoY growth of 11.8 per cent YoY. Bilateral trade has reached its all-time high of approximately USD 84.5 billion (FY 2022-23), registering a YoY growth of 16 per cent.

Underlining these bilateral strides, Minister of Commerce & Industry Piyush Goyal who is looking at further strengthening the ties, held talks with the UAE Minister for Foreign Trade Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi at the UAE India Business Summit on the sidelines of ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ taking place in Ahmedabad. With the multifaceted progress in ties encompassing collaborations in space exploration, security, education, and climate action, India and the UAE are keen to unlock the full value of their growing exchanges. An important step in this regard is the plan to establish a Bharat Park in the Jebel Ali Free Zone under Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem’s guidance which would open myriad opportunities for international trade between the two nations and beyond, significantly elevating India’s global visibility.

 

 

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