SOUTH AFRICA IS NEW GOLD MINE FOR INDIANS

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The glitter is going out of India 's gold imports from Switzerland and the UAE - traditional beneficiaries of the country's unquenchable thirst for the yellow metal. Following liberalisation of import controls and surge in international prices, India Inc is sourcing more and more of the precious metal from other sources like South Africa , Australia and Hong Kong .

The biggest beneficiary is South Africa which exported gold worth Rs 8,272 crore to India in 2003 as compared to Rs 4,794 crore during 2002. In doing so, South Africa has also dethroned Switzerland as the biggest exporter of gold to India .

Imports from South Africa have nearly doubled despite a 6.4% decline in the country's gold consumption during 2003 to 606 tonnes. India's gold import bill for 2003 was Rs 18,607 crore as compared to record Rs 19,889 crore spent during 2002 to import the yellow metal. India imported gold worth Rs 5,898 crore from South Africa in 2000 but import bill fell dramatically next year to Rs 2,730 crore.

The dramatic gain in market share during 2003 augurs well for South Africa since gold imports by India - the largest consumer of the yellow metal - is all set to spurt in 2004. According to traders, demand for gold is growing due to last year's good monsoon which is translating into a bumper harvest. Also price of gold in the Indian market has declined due to the sharp appreciation of the rupee against the dollar. The rupee has gained nearly 5% since the beginning of this year, making gold - and all other imported items - cheaper for the Indian consumer. South Africa 's gain has turned out to be a major loss for Switzerland which was the biggest exporter of gold to India till now. Imports from Switzerland declined to Rs 7,563 crore in 2003 as compared to Rs 11,586 crore in 2002, according to data compiled by credit rating agency ICRA. During 2001, India had imported gold worth Rs 12,371 crore from Switzerland . In the previous two years too, India had imported gold in excess of Rs 9,300 crore from Switzerland .

The other loser in the game is the UAE which exported gold worth Rs 909 crore to India in 2003 as compared to Rs.1,133 crore in 2002.

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