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India-Saudi Arabia: Strengthening strategic ties for mutual prosperity

The alliance between India and Saudi Arabia stands as a linchpin for regional and global stability and prosperity, stressed Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud in New Delhi.

India views Saudi Arabia as one of its most significant strategic partners, and both nations are actively enhancing their relationship to align with the evolving times.

The meeting between Modi and Bin Salman marked a crucial moment in the bilateral relations, as it inaugurated the India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council. In his opening remarks, Prime Minister Modi highlighted the identification of several initiatives aimed at elevating their close partnership to new heights. He stated, “Our relationship will get a new direction and energy in today’s meeting.”

The India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council, established in 2019, serves as a platform to further intensify collaboration across critical domains. Crown Prince Bin Salman’s state visit to India, following the conclusion of the G20 Summit, underscored the commitment to nurturing this vital partnership.

The ceremonial welcome extended to the Crown Prince at the Rashtrapati Bhavan set the tone for the discussions. Bin Salman expressed his delight at being in India and congratulated the nation on hosting the G20 Summit. He acknowledged the significance of the announcements made during the summit, emphasizing that they would benefit the world and expressed a shared commitment to creating a prosperous future for both nations.

Saudi Arabia holds a pivotal position among India’s strategic partners in the Middle East. In recent years, bilateral relations have witnessed a noteworthy upswing, with a particular focus on strengthening defence and security cooperation. A significant milestone was the visit of India’s Chief of Army Staff, Gen MM Naravane, to Saudi Arabia in December 2020, marking the first-ever visit by the head of India’s 1.3 million-strong Army to the Gulf nation. This visit paved the way for a series of high-ranking military exchanges between the two countries.

Space Cooperation

India and Saudi Arabia are also exploring opportunities in the space sector. The Indian government is contemplating further easing foreign direct investment (FDI) norms in the space industry to attract foreign players. Rajesh Kumar Singh, Secretary in the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), highlighted the vast potential for Saudi Arabian companies to invest in various sectors in India, including aviation, pharmaceuticals, bulk drugs, renewable energy, food processing, and agritech.

Singh emphasized the scope for collaboration in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, cybersecurity, automation, and space. India’s intention to liberalize FDI norms in the space sector is aimed at fostering private sector and foreign investment. Presently, FDI in the space sector is allowed up to 100 percent for satellite establishment and operations through government approval only.

In addition to these areas, Saudi Arabian companies have already invested in India’s wind and solar energy sectors. Collaboration between Saudi Arabia’s military industry and India’s “Make in India” campaign is another avenue for joint defence projects of mutual interest. And also encouraged investments in bulk drug parks and the food processing sector, capitalizing on India’s vibrant agro-tech startup ecosystem.

Trade relations between the two countries have been robust, with bilateral trade reaching USD 52.8 billion in 2022-23. India’s exports to Saudi Arabia stood at USD 10.7 billion in the last fiscal year, up from USD 8.8 billion in 2021-22. The bilateral trade reached USD 43 billion in 2021-22. The prospect of expanding beyond oil trade to engage in various sectors such as food processing, tourism, renewable energy, health, and entertainment was discussed as a means to diversify and strengthen trade ties.

India’s prowess in outsourced services was also highlighted, positioning the country as an ideal destination for Saudi companies seeking such opportunities. Moreover, India’s status as the pharmaceutical capital of the world presents opportunities for collaboration in the healthcare sector.

Joint Secretary in the DPIIT, Sanjiv, affirmed the vast potential for boosting trade and investments between India and Saudi Arabia. Speaking at the event, Badr AlBadr, Deputy Minister of Investors Outreach, Ministry of Investment, Saudi Arabia, emphasized the significance of the bilateral agreement signed between the ministry and Invest India, which would provide a conducive environment for investors and traders to expand their business activities. He noted that despite challenges like the Covid pandemic, food security concerns, and geopolitical uncertainties, trade between the two nations continues to grow, underscoring the exceptional investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia. AlBadr mentioned that a total of 47 MoUs and agreements, both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-government (B2G), were signed during the event, reflecting the mutual commitment to deepening cooperation.

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