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India among UAE’s best friends: Emirati envoy

Dr. Ahmed Al-Banna, the Emirati envoy to New Delhi. (AN photo)
DUBAI: India and the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are among the best friends of the UAE, the Emirati envoy to New Delhi, Dr. Ahmed Al-Banna, told Arab News.

Bilateral relations have reached a new level since Modi’s visit to the UAE in August 2015, Al-Banna said.

During his visit to the UAE on Feb. 10-12, Modi will deliver the keynote address at the Sixth World Government Summit, and interact with non-resident Indians at the Opera House in Dubai.

“The traditional relationship between the UAE and India has always been there in terms of trade, oil, gas, export and re-export,” said Al-Banna.

But since Modi’s 2015 visit and that of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in 2016, “a new track of strategic relationship has developed, and new sectors have been explored,” added Al-Banna, who will accompany Modi during his upcoming visit.

“We have three top-level committees with India. There’s a joint committee headed by (UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation) Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and (Indian Minister of External Affairs) Sushma Swaraj,” said Al-Banna.

“Then we have the strategic dialogue committee, which was formed during the last visit of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (to India) in January 2017. This committee is headed by UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Anwar Gargash and India’s Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar,” Al-Banna added.

“Then we have the special investment task force, headed by His Highness Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed, president of the crown prince’s office in Abu Dhabi and chairman of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), and India’s Minister of Commerce Suresh Prabhu. This shows you the importance of the relationship.”

India is the UAE’s leading trade partner, with bilateral trade at about $53 billion, said Al-Banna.

Bilateral relations have acquired tremendous strategic significance, and India and the UAE are cooperating in the fields of defense and aerospace technology, he added.

They are also working closely together on information technology and related sectors, he said.

“Lately, there has also been concentration on what we call soft power, cultural diplomacy and interaction on many cultural levels such as art exhibitions, traditional dance troupes etc.,” he added.

The UAE has invested about $10 billion in India, of which $4 billion is foreign direct investment (FDI), he said.

“We’ve created a special fund along with the Finance Ministry, the National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), with a commitment from the UAE of about $75 billion over the next 10 years to support infrastructure projects in India,” he said.

Of that $75 billion, $1 billion was transferred to the NIIF nearly a month ago, Al-Banna added.

“During the past year, there has been an extra $1 billion investment in India from different UAE institutions and companies,” he said.

“In 2018, we’re likely to witness another $1.5 billion investment from the UAE in India.”

Al-Banna applauded the contributions of UAE-based Indian expats who are helping the two countries progress.

“There are more than 2.8 million Indians living in the UAE,” he said. “These people have contributed to the growth of the UAE on many different levels. They remit more than $13.4 billion a year to their families in India.”

He said his team has developed a plan “to reach out to different levels of the Indian population to create awareness that the UAE can offer many different opportunities.”

He added: “The UAE isn’t only a land of opportunities where people can go and work. It’s also a tourist destination, a major hub and a growing industrial sector.”

The UAE is culturally rich, safe, and has instilled a sense of comfort among people, he said.

“All nationalities living in the UAE, including Indians, consider the country their home,” he added.

“We’re trying, through many different means, to explain what the UAE is all about. Seeing is believing.”

Medical tourism is another important part of Indo-UAE relations, he said, adding: “We’re working very closely on medical tourism from India to the UAE in some specialized hospitals for treatments. We also receive a lot of UAE patients who are treated in many different hospitals in India.”

Al-Banna highlighted the campaign launched by the UAE to help Yemenis injured in the ongoing war in their country.

As a result of that effort, 1,700 Yemenis have been brought to India to get medical attention.

“We brought them to India for treatment, and they’ve been placed in many different hospitals under the supervision and support of the UAE government,” he said.

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