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India Kenya's largest Asian trading partner

India, which has a thriving diaspora in Kenya estimated at 100,000, became the East African nation's biggest trading partner in Asia in 2012, surpassing China, a government document says.

India exported to Kenya goods worth $240 million, way ahead of Asia's biggest economy China, which exported goods valued at $148 million.The figure represents a growth of around 30 percent when compared to 2011.

The figures, according to Kenya's National Economic Survey 2013, represented 18 percent of Kenya's imports in 2012, asserting India's growing influence in the east African region.

Exports to Kenya, according to Indian High Commissioner Sibabrata Tripathi, included petroleum products, pharmaceuticals, electrical machinery, steel products, hand and machine tools, yarn, vehicles and paper.

Kenya, on the other hand, exported soda ash, coffee, leather, vegetables, synthetic fibers, wool, cereals and metal scrap to India.

While the figures seem impressive for a small economy like Kenya, with a population of 40 million, Tripathi said they represented less than one percent of India's total global exports.

"A number of factors contribute to the growing trade between India and Kenya. Relative proximity of the two countries, particularly of ports on the west coast of India, and the quality of Indian products at an affordable cost are among the major factors," the high commissioner said.

"Close attention is paid by Indian exporters to the specificities of the Kenyan market. The commonality of business language in the two countries also helps," added Tripathi. Much of the Indian diaspora has its origins in Gujarat and Punjab.

He said Kenya was emerging as a market for Indian tour operators, with some 60,000 of the one million tourists who visited Kenya in 2011 being from India, compared to 47,000 in 2010.

The growth has been spurred by increased direct flights between Delhi/Mumbai and Nairobi, with Kenya Airways and Emirates operating regular flights on these sectors.

"The wildlife safaris of Kenya are increasingly becoming an attractive destination for Indian tourists since they have remained relatively unexplored so far", Tripathi told IANS.

There was also growing Indian interest in Kenya as an investment destination in areas like communications, petroleum refining, floriculture and medical diagnostics.

Already some 40 Indian firms, including a bank, are operating in Kenya, using the country as a launch pad to the 100 million strong East African Community and the wider Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA).

Among the major companies operating in Kenya are Tata Chemicals, which owns Magadi Soda Ash Company, oil firm Essar and Airtel. The Bank of India has four branches in Kenya.

A major Indian hospital was also planning to open a diagnostic facility in Nairobi, which could cut down on visits to Indian hospitals by Kenyans seeking specialised treatment.

Kenya and the East African region have benefited greatly from Indian education, with thousands of students going through Indian universities via scholarships since the 1960s, a trend that picked in the 1980s.