Saudi Arabia and India’s historic opportunity

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By Dr. Saud Al-Sati

Civilizational ties between Saudi Arabia and India began with the trade of a handful of commodities — spices, aromatics, almonds and dates — and gradually transcended into the realm of people and ideas. Scholars from India came to our region to learn Arabic and Islamic jurisprudence and the Arabs went to India to learn mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. Trust, mutual understanding, goodwill and respect for each other’s interests have nurtured our dynamic cultural, economic and political relations throughout.
We have made remarkable progress in diverse fields, including the trade, investment, energy, security and cultural spheres since the signing of the landmark Riyadh Declaration of February 2010, which elevated our relationship into a strategic partnership. The last decade has been particularly seminal in transforming the nature of our relations. The frequency of high-level bilateral visits in recent years demonstrates the commitment to strengthening our strategic partnership. King Salman’s visit to India in February 2014 was followed by the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Saudi Arabia in April 2016. The landmark state visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to India in February this year especially reaffirmed the strong friendship between our two nations and the momentous future that lies ahead of us. Crown Prince Mohammed and Modi again met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Japan in June and agreed to set up a high-level mechanism to boost concrete actions in terms of investment, technology and manufacturing across various sectors.
The Kingdom views India as a strategic partner in its pursuit of Vision 2030, which seeks to create a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation. The Kingdom also wants to be a part of India’s march toward becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2025.
Crown Prince Mohammed’s visit to India was instrumental in furthering the strategic partnership across sectors — trade, investments, energy, security and culture — with the potential for transforming the region. Some $10 billion of investment through the Public Investment Fund and its technology partners was announced during the visit, along with the exploration of other investment opportunities potentially worth $26 billion.
Saudi Aramco’s proposed investments in India’s energy sector, such as the $44 billion West Coast Refinery and Petrochemical project in Maharashtra and long-term partnership with Reliance, reflects Saudi Arabia’s commitment to meeting India’s growing need for crude oil and petroleum products. Energy security is a key pillar of our strategic partnership, with immense scope for growth.
Saudi Arabia and India also identified more than 40 opportunities for collaboration and joint investments across various sectors, meaning our current bilateral trade of approximately $34 billion will undoubtedly continue to increase in the near future. In fact, the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority issued licenses to 267 new foreign investors in the first quarter of 2019, 30 of them being Indian companies.

The multiple memorandums of understanding signed during the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed to India in the fields of housing, tourism, broadcasting of audio-visual programs, and investments will further pave the way for expanding bilateral trade and economic cooperation. The two nations are also exploring more cooperation in the areas of space, science and technology, including remote sensing, satellite communication and satellite-based navigation. During the visit, the two countries also agreed to constitute a comprehensive security dialogue at the level of national security advisers and set up a Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism.
The Saudi Arabia-India joint statement of February 2019 echoes the desire on both sides to broaden people-to-people interactions and increase two-way tourism by addressing challenges with regard to consular and immigration issues. Both sides also look forward to the integration of the migration platforms of both countries to create a robust migration environment. Approximately 3 million Indians live in Saudi Arabia, forming the largest expatriate community in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s new residency permit scheme will further invite talent into the country.
There is huge untapped potential available in merchandise trade, particularly in non-oil trade, and we are enhancing cooperation in the economic, commercial, investment, cultural and technological fields.
Modi’s current visit will further elevate and reinforce the strategic partnership between our two friendly countries.
The deepening of our bilateral relations comes at a crucial time, as the economies of Saudi Arabia and India are positively transforming. As formidable economies of the Middle East and Asia, Saudi Arabia and India have a historic opportunity to collaborate in shaping the future of our regions, for a better tomorrow full of prosperity and promise.

(The author Dr. Saud Al-Sati is Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to India.)