India offered a USD 100 million line of credit to Benin for its development projects on Monday as President Ram Nath Kovind held wide-ranging discussions with his Beninese counterpart Patrice Talon on issues of trade, defence and security cooperation.
Kovind, who arrived here on Sunday on the first leg of his three-nation tour, is the first Indian head of state to visit the West African nation. He was accorded a ceremonial welcome at the Presidential Palace upon his arrival.
"I held wide-ranging talks with President Talon. We both committed ourselves to take our relations to a higher level, with special focus on economic partnership," President Kovind said after the delegation-level talks.
The two sides signed four agreements/MoUs on Cultural Exchange, Cooperation in Export Credit and Investment Insurance, e-VBAB network project, visa exemption for Indian diplomatic/official passports.
"We offered a fresh line of credit of USD 100 million to finance development projects in Benin," Kovind said.
He said the two sides also discussed defence and security cooperation.
The two countries "stand together in the global fight against terrorism and piracy," he said, adding that India offered further training assistance to Benin to expand its anti-piracy capacity.
They also agreed to work together to combat climate change through the International Solar Alliance.
President Kovind said the two sides took stock of the ongoing projects being financed by Indian assistance and hoped that they will be completed soon, especially the project to supply safe drinking water to 103 villages in Benin.
"In the last 10 years, our bilateral trade has risen from USD 350 million to more than USD 800 million. With this, India has become Benin's largest trading partner," he said.
He noted that India's duty-free tariff preference scheme has helped Benin's exports grow by over 68 per cent last year to reach USD 376 million.
"We agreed that there were immense opportunities to enhance trade and investment ties. India's transformative growth and Benin's natural strengths complement each other," he said.
Both countries further committed to take the development partnership forward through the signing of a country agreement for Benin to avail India's tele-education programme - e-Vidyabharati, and tele-medicine initiative - e-Arogyabharati.
Under these programmes, India extended free tele-education courses to 15,000 Beninese students and tele-medicine courses to 1,000 doctors and paramedics in Africa.
"My visit has given an opportunity to add further momentum to our special ties. As the world's largest democracy, India has been impressed by the emergence of the Republic of Benin over the past three decades as a shining example of a stable democracy in West Africa," Kovind said.
He also thanked Benin for its support for India's candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
President Kovind said his visit will open a new chapter in the bilateral relations between the two countries.
He will now travel to Porto Novo, the seat of Beninese Parliament, and in a special honour extended to India by Benin, he will address the National Assembly there.
Kovind will also meet the members of the Indian community at a reception hosted in his honour in Cotonou on July 30 before departing for The Gambia.
Apart from Benin and The Gambia, he will also visit Guinea, the first visit by an Indian head of state to the three West African countries.