Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia landed in New Delhi on his first State Visit to India on Tuesday evening. The Prince was accompanied by a high-level official delegation, as well as a large business delegation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Crown Prince met in November last year on the sidelines of G20 in Buenos Aires. During the visit of the Prime Minister to Saudi Arabia in April 2016, MBS, as he is widely known, had met him as the then Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defence of Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Modi will hold delegation-level talks with the Crown Prince and his delegation at Hyderabad House Wednesday. The Prime Minister will host a lunch in honour of the visiting dignitary in Hyderabad House.
The sides are expected to sign Five MoUs/ Agreements during the visit in areas of investment, tourism, housing and information & broadcasting.
The 2.7 million strong Indian community is the largest expatriate group in Saudi Arabia. They send remittances of over US $11 billion annually. The Kingdom also facilitates Hajj pilgrimage to over 1,75,000 Indians every year. This is a major reason why Saudi Arabia is an important country for India.
The Riyadh Declaration of 2010 had forged a Strategic Partnership between India and Saudi Arabia. Relations between the two countries are rooted in strong historical and civilisational links. The mutually beneficial partnership encompasses active cooperation in a wide spectrum of spheres.
Saudi Arabia has identified India as one of the eight strategic partners with whom it intends to deepen partnership in areas of political engagement, security, trade and investment, and culture. As part of this engagement, the two sides are finalising the setting up of a Strategic Partnership Council at the Ministerial level.
This includes security cooperation, and during Modi’s 2016 visit, an MoU on cooperation in the exchange of intelligence related to money laundering and terrorism financing was signed.
New Delhi says Riyadh has shown greater understanding of India’s terrorism-related concerns, and has agreed to work with India in countering the global menace.
Cooperation in the defence sector will continue to be an important area of India-Saudi ties. An MoU on Defence Cooperation was signed in 2014 during the visit of the Crown Prince Salman, the present King. The two sides are exploring the possibility of elevating this engagement with Joint Production and Joint Exercises, in particular Joint Naval exercises.
Trade and Energy
Bilateral trade was US $27.48 billion during the last financial year 2017-18, making Saudi Arabia India’s 4th largest trading partner, recording about 10% growth compared to 2016-17.
Saudi Arabia is the key pillar of India’s energy security, being a source of 17% or more of crude oil and 32% of LPG requirements of India. Recently, Saudi ARAMCO, in partnership with ADNOC of UAE, has agreed to partner in Ratnagiri Refinery and Petro-Chemical project Ltd., a Joint Venture of US$ 44 billion. The Indian partners are IOC, BPCL & HPCL. India hopes to transform this buyer-seller relationship in energy to a broad-based partnership.
Other areas of interest for joint collaboration are fertilisers, food security, infrastructure, renewable energy, etc. In a recent meeting that a NITI Aayog-led delegation had with their Saudi counterparts, areas such as information and communications technology, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, electronic and manufacturing facilities, and housing were identified as potential areas of enhanced cooperation.
Saudi Arabia itself is undertaking large development projects including Smart City, Red Sea Tourism Project, and Entertainment City, in which Indian companies will be looking to participate.
The countries are also looking for greater collaboration in the area of civil aviation, where there is considerable potential for enhanced links, especially in the context of increasing trade and tourism.
Saudi Arabia has conveyed that it would join Prime Minister Modi’s ‘International Solar Alliance’ initiative.