India and Saudi Arabia Forge a New Era of Economic and Strategic Partnership
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
Saudi Arabia’s Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud arrived in India on September 9, 2023 to attend the two day G20 Summit followed by his state visit to India. This was his second state visit to India. During the G20 Summit, Saudi Arabia was one of the signatories to the agreement of setting up the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEE EC) that will provide faster and cheaper sea and rail transit options to West Asia and Europe. The initiative was jointly announced by Prime Minister Modi and the leaders of the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Germany, Italy, and the European Union on the sidelines of the G20 summit. Once completed, the project can serve as a modern-day Silk Road that functioned as the central trade route facilitating economic partnerships, political alliances, and cultural integration across continents.
India and Saudi Arabia's historic agreement on the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor promises faster and cheaper transit options, paving the way for a modern-day Silk Road and fostering global economic partnerships
The Saudi Arabian Crown Prince was accorded a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan at 10 am on September 11, 2023. This was followed by delegation level talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Delhi’s Hyderabad House where both leaders co-chaired the first leaders' meeting of the Strategic Partnership Council, a bilateral agreement between India and Saudi Arabia signed by the two nations in Riyadh in 2019. "I am very glad to be here in India. I want to congratulate India for the G20 Summit. A lot of announcements have been made that will benefit G20 countries and the world. We will work together to create a great future for both countries,” the Crown Prince said. Prime Minister Modi responded by saying, "For India, Saudi Arabia counts as one of its closest and biggest strategic partners, India-Saudi Arabia partnership crucial for stability, welfare of region and world. We are adding a new dimension to our ties in tune with changing times. We have identified several initiatives to take our close partnership to the next level.”
Referring to the IMEE EC agreement signed on the sidelines on the G20 Summit, Modi said, “Yesterday, we took a decision to start a historic economic corridor between India, West Asia and Europe. This corridor will not only connect two countries but also help in providing economic growth, and digital connectivity between Asia, West Asia and Europe." He also cited Saudi Arabia's 'Vision 2030' initiative, an all-encompassing nationwide reform programme launched in 2016 for the economic, cultural and architectural development of the Middle Eastern country and addressing the Crown Prince said, “Under your leadership and Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has seen tremendous economic growth and I congratulate you for that."
The discussion at Hyderabad House was centered on the issues of trade, economy, defence, and cultural cooperation were the main topics of discussion. Both leaders assessed the progress of the two ministerial committees of the Strategic Partnership Council, namely the Political, Security, Social and Cultural Cooperation Committee and the Economy and Investments Cooperation Committee. They also discussed all aspects of bilateral relations, including political, security, defence, trade, economy, culture, and people-to-people ties, in addition to regional and international issues of mutual interest. Both leaders condemned terrorism in all forms, decided to expedite implementation of the $50 billion West Coast Refinery Project and endorsed plans to resume and expedite negotiations for an India-GCC FTA. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is India's largest trading partner bloc with annual bilateral trade valued at over $150 billion. Both nations also identified energy, defence, semiconductors and space as areas of intensified cooperation.
During this state visit by the Crown Prince, India and Saudi Arabia signed over two dozen Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) between private companies in various sectors such as IT, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, and human resources. The signing of the MoUs was facilitated by Invest India and Saudi Arabia's investment ministry. VFS Global, which has 3,500 plus visa application centres in 145 countries, signed a MoU with the Ministry of Investment of Saudi Arabia (MISA) for opening a travel and hospitality academy in Saudi Arabia in (Riyadh); VFS will provide upskilling in the travel and hospitality space. Prime Minister Modi hosted a working lunch for the Crown Prince, who later called on President Draupadi Murmu in the evening before flying out.
Prime Minister Modi and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman emphasised the pivotal role of the India-Saudi Arabia partnership in ensuring regional stability and global welfare, unveiling initiatives to elevate their strategic ties
India and Saudi Arabia have a long history of cordial and cooperative relations, with extensive people-to-people ties. Bilateral trade between the two countries reached an all-time high of $52.75 billion in fiscal year 2022-23. The two economic powerhouses are also major trading partners. India is Saudi Arabia's second-largest trading partner, while Saudi Arabia is India's fourth-largest. The two countries have a strong partnership in the energy sector, with India importing a significant amount of oil from Saudi Arabia. In 2012, India and Saudi Arabia agreed to set up a Joint Committee on Defence Cooperation (JCDC) to boost defence ties between the two nations. The decision was taken at the delegation level talks between the two countries in Riyadh.
During his visit to Riyadh in 2019, Modi had said that the India-Saudi Arabia JCDC meets regularly and that the two countries have identified a number of areas of mutual interest and cooperation in the field of defence and security. From May 23 to May 25, 2023, Indian Navy and the Royal Saudi Naval Force (RSNF) participated in the sea phase of the second edition of the bilateral exercise 'Al Mohed Al Hindi 23' off Al Jubail in Saudi Arabia. INS ‘Tarkash’, INS ‘Subhadra’ and Dornier Maritime Patrol aircraft (MPA) participated in the exercise from the Indian side.
The visit of Prime Minister Modi to Riyadh in April 2016 enhanced bilateral cooperation in the political, economic, security and defence fields, King Salman conferred the Kingdom’s highest civilian honor on India’s Prime Minister, indicating the importance Saudi Arabia attached to its relations with India. During the first state visit to India in in February 2019 it was announced that Saudi Arabia would invest $100 billion in India and six MoUs/agreements were signed in fields of investment, tourism, housing, exchange of audio-visual programme, plus and an agreement for Saudi Arabia to join the International Solar Alliance (ISA) launched by Prime Minister Modi.
Over two dozen Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) between private companies in various sectors are signed, including IT, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, and human resources, solidifying India and Saudi Arabia's commitment to diversified economic cooperation
Modi again visited Riyadh in October 2019, during which the Strategic Partnership Council (SPC) Agreement was signed to steer Indo-Saudi relationship. 12 MoUs/agreements were signed during the visit across several fields, including energy, security, defence production, civil aviation, medical products, strategic petroleum reserves, small and medium scale industries, and training of diplomats. Modi also delivered the keynote address at the Third Future Investment Initiative Summit.
The approximately 2.2 million strong Indian community is the largest expatriate community in Saudi Arabia. The contributions made by the Indian community to the development of Saudi Arabia are well acknowledged. During Modi’s visit to Riyadh in 2019, both sides agreed to integrate India’s e-Migrate system with the Kingdom’s e-Thawtheeq system to streamline the migration process for workers. Both nations demonstrated excellent cooperation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indians on Haj pilgrimage to Mecca is another example of brotherhood. Finally, India-Saudi relations can be expected to keep expanding to infinite levels – skies would literally be the limit.