India-UAE: A multi-dimensional strategic partnership
Ambassador of India to the UAE Navdeep Singh Suri shares his thoughts on bilateral ties between India and the UAE
Navdeep Singh Suri
India's engagement with the Gulf region goes back to the most ancient times of the history. The ties between India and the Gulf region existed since the era of Indus Valley and Mesopotamia civilisations. This 5,000-year-old matured relationship laid the foundation of present India-UAE transformative relationship that has made our 'strategic partnership a natural partnership'. The historical spice and pearl trade between the two countries made us natural business partners. A shared history of trade and cultural exchanges that go back centuries, as well as strong people-to-people ties make India and UAE natural partners on the world stage. The two countries took unique paths in our history to achieve a common goal of being home to tolerance and diversity.
In the last three years, there have been four high-level visits by the leadership of both the countries, deepening the existing relationship. It has expanded into new frontiers of cooperation encompassing areas of defence, energy, investment and people-to-people ties. The mutually shared values of peace, tolerance and sustainability marked 'strategic partnership' as 'natural partnership'. The landmark State visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015 and the return visit of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in February 2016 has set the momentum for 'Golden Era' to transform our buyer-seller relationship to long-term Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The visit of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to India in 2017 as the Chief Guest for Republic Day signified India's growing engagement with the UAE. The second State visit by PM Modi to the UAE in February 2018 underscored the importance India attaches to the UAE as a strategic partner in the Gulf region. In this respect, UAE is one of those few highly important countries that PM Modi visited twice in the last three years.
Marking India as a 'valued partner, UAE invited India as the 'Guest of Honour' country to the prestigious Sixth World Government Summit (WGS) 2018 in Dubai and PM Modi was invited to deliver the keynote address on 'Technology for Development' of the Summit. Delivering the address PM underscored India's expanding relationship with the UAE and narrated India's digital revolution to over 4,000 global delegates in the presence of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
In the energy sector, UAE accounts for 8 per cent of India's oil imports and is the fifth largest supplier of crude oil to India. There is significant mutual synergy in utilising the infinite possibilities offered in energy cooperation. The second visit of PM Modi to the UAE was marked with landmark agreements signed in energy cooperation.
An MoU between India's state-owned oil companies and ADNOC was signed for acquisition of 10 per cent participating interest in the offshore Lower Zakum oil field. This is the first Indian Investment in upstream oil sector of the UAE. In May 2018, ADNOC flagged off its first consignment of two million barrels of crude oil for India's Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Mangaluru. This will be the first such investment by any foreign company in the Indian SPR facility. The ADNOC and Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserve Limited (ISPRL) are actively involved in setting up the second SPR at Padur facility with six million barrels capacity.
In his landmark visit to India in June 2018, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, oversaw a trilateral energy cooperation framework agreement signed by ADNOC and Saudi Aramco to invest in the development of $44 billion Ratnagiri refinery and petrochemicals complex (RRPCL) that is coming up in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. ADNOC and Aramco will use their own oil for the refinery and will jointly own 50 per cent stake in the new joint venture. It underlines the UAE's unwavering commitment to the strategic multilateral relationship with India and being a reliable partner in India's energy security.
The highpoint of the visit was the interaction of Sheikh Abdullah with the Chief Ministers of the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana. The interaction with state leadership marks a strong commitment by both sides in exploring further opportunities to expand existing ties and collaborate on new opportunities that will strengthen and deepen the rich and long-standing strategic relationship between the two countries.
Our bilateral energy cooperation is not just limited to petroleum. Spearheading climate change mitigation efforts as part of International Solar Alliance (ISA), India and the UAE pledged commitment to the historical Paris Agreement. Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince's Court, participated in the ISA conference held in New Delhi in March 2018. He also appreciated the important role played by India in forging new alliances to accelerate international efforts in this regard, at the forefront of which is the ISA.
Trade and Investment
India and the UAE are natural business partners. India is UAE's second largest trade partner and the UAE is India's third-leading trade partner with diversified trade basket. The bilateral trade stands at $50 billion. India exported $30 billion valued goods to the UAE that include heavy machinery, petroleum products and food and dairy products. India imported goods worth $20 billion from the UAE, dominated by petroleum, oil minerals, gold and diamond in 2017-18. Despite global headwinds of economic slowdown and commodity prices fall, the bilateral trade stood strong, and India maintained its position as the top leading trade partner of the UAE. The bilateral trade is expected to hit $100 billion by 2020.
The trade and commerce relations are driven by Indian government flagship Programmes Make in India, GST and Invest India. UAE-based companies are exploring investment opportunities in various Indian sectors like petroleum, real estate, logistics, ports, railways, shipping, renewable energy, industrial corridors and food corridors. Similarly, the UAE welcomes Indian IT and technology companies to invest in the UAE and encouraged them to use the UAE as a platform for expanding their businesses in the region.
The UAE is also committed to investing up to $75 billion into investment opportunities in India's infrastructure sector like railways, roads, ports, airports, industrial corridors and parks. Pursuant to this, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) became the first institutional investor in the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), with an investment of $1 billion. ADIA is investing $1 billion in affordable and mid-income housing projects in India's leading cities. ADIA is among the most active foreign investors in India and has deployed its funds in real estate, private equity and backed two of the largest renewable energy companies of India, investing over $400 million in ReNew Power and Greenko. DP World, the Dubai-based port operator, and NIIF plan to jointly invest up to $3 billion in ports, terminals, transportation and logistics businesses in India.
EMAAR group intends to invest in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat in food processing sector creating a food-corridor in the country. The proposed food corridor will be beneficial for Indian farmers who suffer when there's a glut in the market and prices crash. This also fits into the vision of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who underlined mutual cooperation in food security stating, "you are our partners in energy security, we are your partners in food security". It would double the income of Indian farmers in the next five years.
Indian businesses are also establishing a strong footprint in the UAE. For example, the Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA) is home to more than 800 leading Indian companies, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi are home to a significant Indian business presence. Many Indian companies are actively participating in the bidding process of Dubai Expo 2020 projects. Keeping with the level of relationship, India is going to set up the 'India pavilion' at Expo 2020 on an extra-large plot in the 'Opportunity' segment. This is in tune with the great opportunity for economic activity that India provides today, on the way to becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2025.
India and the UAE would be gateways to each other for investment, trade and cooperation in energy and regional security. The UAE's initiatives to diversify its economy beyond oil, Indian economy's consistent high growth to become $5 trillion economy by 2025 and flagship Programmes of Indian government to drive development and would further strengthen the relationship.
Security and Defence Cooperation
India and UAE have found shared interests in security and defence cooperation in counter-terrorism and extremism, and peaceful maritime trade. Both the countries signed agreements to participate in defence exercises and training, defence exhibitions, to explore opportunities in the joint production of defence equipment in India and selling of Indian military equipment to the UAE. In March 2018, two naval ships of Indian Navy - INS Gomati and INS Kolkata visited the UAE to participate in India-UAE naval exercise 'Gulf Star-1', to enhance the strategic relationship and strengthen defence cooperation between India and the UAE.
Forging the relationship into new areas of cooperation, the UAE and India laid an ambitious roadmap to work and progress in Space cooperation. In February 2017, Nayif-1 Nano-satellite was among the 104 satellites propelled into space in 2017 by the ISRO. Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) cost-effective technology has made it a pioneer in global space technology. In this regard, a joint working group was set up between the UAE Space Agency and the ISRO to identify focus areas for cooperation.
ISRO and the UAE Space Agency are exploring opportunities to cooperate in UAE's Mars Mission 2020, building a colony on Mars by 2171, remote sensing applications, facilitating the training of Emirati space scientists in Indian space research institutions, maritime security by using ISRO's Gagan [GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation] satellite navigation services, satellite-based research and rescue missions in the region. Prof. K. Radhakrishnan, a former Chairman of ISRO and a key scientist behind India's Chandrayan-1 and Mars Mission, is set to join the UAE Space Agency advisory board. This is a landmark moment in forging UAE-India space cooperation and sets momentum for great endeavours in future. The growing strategic partnership between India and UAE can be seen in approach towards maintaining peace and stability in their respective regions, countering terrorism and combating radicalisation and preventing terror finance through intelligence sharing. Indian and UAE think tanks often share mutual experience in this field and devise strategies to counter terrorism and radical extremism.
Emirates Policy Centre (EPC) of the UAE and Observer Research Foundation of India signed an MoU to establish a partnership and enhance their efforts in studying regional and international issues in the security and political fields. As part of the collaboration, both the think tanks will conduct joint research projects, events, dialogue, conferences, etc.
As per the latest International Organization for Migration (IOM) report, the UAE is home to 3.3 million Indian expats. This is the largest expat population in the UAE. The Indian community is deeply respected for hard work, discipline, entrepreneurship, and contribution to the UAE development. The UAE is consistently the top most country in remittances flow into India. Close to $14 billion flow to India every year in the form of remittance from this country fuelling India's economic growth.
In the presence of the huge Indian community gathering at Dubai Opera House in February 2018, Prime Minister Modi witnessed the groundbreaking ceremony of the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi and the first traditional stone temple in the Middle East. Thanking Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for generously donating 55,000 square metres of land and permission for the temple construction, PM Modi said, "I believe this temple will not be only unique in terms of architecture and splendour, but will also give a message of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam to people across the world."
When the world is fragmenting for frivolous reasons, this timely noble gesture of the UAE reinforces faith in unity in diversity. It reinforces the guiding vision of tolerance and harmony of the founding father of the UAE. Both the UAE and India are fine examples of tolerance, diversity and peaceful coexistence.
The UAE leadership respects and often participates in community festivals and celebrations. The Indian community is taking various initiatives to celebrate the Year of Zayed in 2018. Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF) invited India as the Country of Honour at the 15th Abu Dhabi Festival - a month-long festival of arts and culture and celebrated the cultural wealth of India with a variety of exhilarating performances by leading Indian artists and musicians.
International Day of Yoga (IDY) often sees huge gathering of Indian, Emirati and other foreign nationals and participation from the UAE leadership. Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan, the UAE's Minister of Tolerance, graced the occasion as Chief Guest at the 4th IDY this year.
In June 2018, India and UAE announced the launch of Gandhi-Zayed Digital Museum, a first-of-its-kind scheduled for later this year. The initiative allows people to gain an insight into the lives and legacies of the two exceptional leaders commemorating the 100th birth anniversary of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The Gandhi-Zayed Digital Museum would be launched in Abu Dhabi, aligning with the 'Year of Zayed' Programmes.
Under the leadership of Shrimati Sushma Swaraj, Indian Embassy and CGI Dubai are continuously addressing the needs of the Indian community. Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendra (PBSK), formerly known as Indian Workers Resource Centre (IWRC) of the Indian Embassy, works with the motto of 'Building Community Bridges through Caring' and provides a 24/7 helpline, conducts awareness classes and counselling Programmes on legal, financial and social issues.
Our officials are constantly engaged in providing financial help to destitute workers, assisting prisoners with emergency certificates, making hospital visits and helping patients who want to go back home but don't have the money to buy tickets and even meeting expenses to embalm dead bodies and send them to India. The daily Open House has been a successful model where community members directly interact with the embassy officials. It makes them feel that we are hearing them out and doing whatever we can to solve their problems.
Through the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF), we provide on-site financial assistance for deserving cases. In the past years, the embassy and Consulate have helped hundreds of people financially - be it someone who came on a visit visa and got cheated by the recruitment agent, or an accident victim who wants to be repatriated, runaway housemaids who need subsistence allowance, people who cannot afford legal assistance, etc.
As part of the ongoing Amnesty scheme in the UAE, the Embassy and Consulate have placed all the available information and FAQs on the website as well as social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter etc. Our senior officials are conducting regular meetings with Indian Community Associations, members of media, etc. for spreading Amnesty scheme information about helpline, camps and scheme details. We are issuing emergency certificates and air tickets to the needy.
The social media has emerged as an effective platform for communication. We have an active presence on social media to serve Indians seeking help. When we get direct messages at our Twitter tags @IndembAbuDhabi, @cgidubai and @HelpIWRC, we respond immediately. We also use social media platforms to create awareness about embassy activities, new government welfare schemes, events, awareness lectures, etc.
As we get ready to celebrate India's 72nd Independence Day, we look forward to working for the continued well-being and prosperity of the Indian Community even as we strive to take India-UAE ties to the greater heights.
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