By Mahua Venkatesh
New Delhi, Jan 28: India has been steadily charting a new course in deepening economic and strategic relations with the Gulf countries. Not only are India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries keen on inking a free trade agreement at the earliest amid rapid geopolitical shifts and slowing trade worldwide, connectivity is another area that has come to the fore.
"This is a natural synergy. Connectivity will always boost economic activities which include trade. It is important to ink the trade agreement which is expected to be a win-win for both India and the Gulf bloc," a person working on the trade agreement said.
India and UAE have already signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, negotiations of which were completed in a record time of just 88 days.
"We are also confident in our negotiating ability, we have conducted negotiations in a rapid manner with UAE, and we believe that a similar agreement on trade would be concluded with the GCC in this year itself," Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal earlier said.
In 2021-22, the GCC countries accounted for almost 35 per cent of India's oil imports and 70 per cent of gas imports.
Recently, India's ambassador to the UAE Sunjay Sudhir said that New Delhi and the UAE are looking to launch a feasibility study on laying undersea cables between the two, This is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's the One Sun, One World, One Grid initiative plan.
The move to connect the power grids that will facilitate all six member states of the GCC comprising Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, to get connected to India and thereby also boosting interdependence.
Besides, the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) will start a liner service from Saudi Arabia's Jeddah Islamic Port.
The new shipping line connects Jebel Ali in South West Dubai, Mundra and Nhava Sheva in India, Djibouti in Africa, Gioia, Tauro, Salerno and Genoa in Italy, Barcelona and Valencia in Spain, Marsaxlokk in Malta, King Abdullah, which is Saudi Arabia's newly launched port facility, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.
This would be a game changer for India as it looks to boost its trade and economic relation with the region.
"The latest route will unearth a new world of trade opportunities and promote manufacturing industries across the region through direct connectivity," SPA said, adding that with lesser trans-shipments and faster transit times, the service can link Mundra to Genoa within 19 days and Nhava Sheva to Barcelona within 16 days. The project will push India's aim to become an export hub at a time when several multinational companies are looking at a China Plus strategy.
The Gulf region is home to about 8 million Indians, of whom 2.5 million live in Saudi Arabia and more than 3 million have made UAE their home. Indians comprise the largest expatriate community in these countries.
"The Middle East gives India opportunities to showcase its diplomatic clout and commitment to multilateralism in areas beyond Asia, particularly as it looks to use its G-20 presidency to serve as a bridge between rich economies and developing states," Foreign Policy magazine said.