China says open for trade with east Europe as clash with US ramps up

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (C) and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov inspect an honour guard during a welcoming ceremony in Sofia on July 6, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 07 July 2018
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China says open for trade with east Europe as clash with US ramps up

  • Sofia hopes to lure Chinese funds for highway and railway projects to link ports on the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea
  • More than 250 Chinese companies and 700 officials from central and eastern Europe are expected to attend an economic forum alongside the summit

SOFIA: China remains open for trade with foreign partners and can only benefit from an economically strong Europe, its premier said on Saturday as he pressed for expanded ties with the continent’s eastern wing while waging a tariff war with Washington.
Li Keqiang told a summit with central and eastern European leaders that China would continue opening its markets and implementing other reforms that had fueled its economy, providing opportunities for EU members and aspirants in the bloc’s poorer half.
“It is two-way traffic,” Li said through an interpreter.
.”..Opening up has been a key driver of China’s reform agenda so we will continue to open wider to the world, including widening market access for foreign investors.”
Li’s attendance at the seventh “16+1” summit in Sofia coincided with the first salvos in what risks becoming a protracted global trade war, as Washington and Beijing slapped tariffs on $34 billion worth of each others’ goods.
Some participating countries have begun doubting the value of the annual meetings, and China has come under pressure to show its courting of individual countries from the Baltics to the Balkans would not hurt the European Union as a whole.
“If Europe is weakened, it will only be bad news for China, not the other way around,” Li said. “This (16+1) platform needs to stay open. It needs to be transparent.”
Officials from the EU, World Bank, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development were invited and Li said those organizations were welcome to jointly fund projects in central and eastern Europe.
KEEPING IT SWEET
Mindful of the need to keep relations with the EU on an even keel as his trade battles with US President Donald Trump intensify, Li has been careful to stress China’s support for European integration and rules in trade and procurement.
He said China was ready to fund a Global Partnership Center in Sofia that should help Chinese companies understand EU market rules and adhere to them in the region.
Analysts have said Li, who will travel to Germany on Sunday ahead of a wider China-EU summit in Beijing, would avoid any issues that might irk western EU governments.
He is holding bilateral meetings in Sofia with all the leaders of the eastern countries. He said these were also not meant to divide Europe.
Some 18 bilateral agreements and memorandums were signed, but no new major deals were announced.
China has promised billions of dollars for development projects in the region as part of its Belt and Road strategy to carve out new export markets.
More than 1,000 business people from China and central and eastern Europe attended an economic forum alongside the summit, seeking deals in trade, technology, infrastructure, agriculture and tourism.
Bulgaria hopes the summit will help secure funds to build new infrastructure, mainly in the Balkans, which still lags richer western EU states.
“16+1 is a format that aims to strengthen Europe,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said in his opening remarks. “It gives more opportunities to those who joined the EU later to catch up faster.”
Last month Hungary finalized the construction timetable with Beijing for a Budapest-Belgrade rail link. But outside Hungary, Chinese investments have not met expectations.
Countries taking part in the summit include the region’s EU states, plus Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
Croatia will host the next 16+1 summit in 2019.
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Saudi crown prince’s India visit to boost bilateral investment

Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser leaves after attending the Saudi-India Forum in New Delhi on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 20 February 2019
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Saudi crown prince’s India visit to boost bilateral investment

  • Vision 2030 offers huge opportunities to Indian businessmen in non-oil sector

Many Indian businesses that already operate in the Kingdom are interested in expanding as part of Vision 2030. Retail company Lulu Group International, for example, plans to open 12 new hypermarkets and five malls in Saudi Arabia by next year. 

It already employs more than 2,700 Saudi nationals and plans to increase this number to about 5,000 by 2020.

“Saudi Arabia is a very important market and we will invest in the booming retail sector as we are upbeat about the vast opportunities in the Kingdom through its Vision 2030 initiative,” said Yusuff Ali M. A., the chairman of Lulu Group.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s first visit to India will propel trade and bilateral business relations between the two countries to new heights, experts predict.

Saudi Arabia has long been an important trade partner for India, said Mir Gazanfar Ali Zaki, the general secretary of the Saudi Indian Business Network, and the crown prince’s trip could expand and enhance ties in diverse fields.

According to Saudi Arabia’s General Investment Authority, more than 420 Indian companies operate in the Kingdom through joint ventures or with 100 percent ownership. They have capital of more than $1.5 billion and cover sectors including management and consultancy services, construction projects, telecommunications, information technology and pharmaceuticals.

Saudi Vision 2030, the crown prince’s brainchild, aims to transform the country by diversifying its economy through a series of reforms in non-oil sectors. India hopes to play a significant role in this expansion. The key sectors that India can target to expand and boost trade ties with the Kingdom include software development, solar energy, jewelry, fashion, tourism, education and food, said Zaki.

The cultural reforms initiated recently by the crown prince also clear the way for a wide range of business opportunities in the entertainment sector that India is well placed to cash in on. Bollywood films and music rank high on the list of popular entertainment among many Saudis, and with the recent reopening of cinemas in the Kingdom, and ambitious plans to build hundreds of theaters across the country, there is a huge opportunity for an Indian film to grab a large share of the market.

India’s bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia was worth $27.48 billion in the financial year 2017-18, according to the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, making the Kingdom the country’s fourth-largest trading partner. It is the main supplier of energy, providing more than 18 percent of India’s oil. However, bilateral trade has dropped by almost a half from a high of about $48 billion five years ago because of the fall in global demand for oil. This might soon change, analysts say, as more investors from India are tempted by the Vision 2030 opportunities.

This view is shared by a Middle East Institute analysis that said: “As reforms related to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 are implemented, Indian investors are likely to be attracted to several sectors, including infrastructure, hydrocarbons, desalination, renewable energy, education, research and development, health and pharmaceuticals.”

“We have trained about 200 Saudi nationals to take our business forward,” P. A. Ibrahim, the chairman of Indian company Malabar Gold and Diamonds said. “It is really a huge success that gives us the confidence to open more branches in the Kingdom. Vision 2030 and the Neom project have opened up good opportunities for us to invest more. We are planning four more jewelry outlets in the Kingdom soon,” he said.

A growing area of trade cooperation between the two countries is the field of petrochemical projects. Saudi oil company Aramco, in partnership with the UAE’s Adnoc, recently announced a joint venture for a stake in the $44 billion Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals project. Cooperation in the sector is expected to grow and it is thought new agreements might be signed during the crown prince’s visit.

An enduring and tangible aspect of the bilateral relations is the presence of a strong, vibrant community of 2.7 million Indians in Saudi Arabia, the largest single group of expatriates in the country. In addition, the Kingdom welcomes more than 175,000 Indian Hajj pilgrims every year.

“We can transform the trade links and cooperation to people-to-people coexistence because of this,” said Zaki. “By promoting foreign direct investment at Saudi trade shows and Indian trade shows, businesses from both countries can benefit. India and Saudi Arabia can organize Indo-Saudi trade exhibitions in both countries so that it can be a common platform for bilateral trade. Both countries should organize as many business-to-business meetings as possible.”

He highlighted the recent efforts by the Saudi Indian Business Network to achieve this through exhibitions such as the Kerala Gems and Jewelry show, the Kolkata Gems and Jewelry Show, Indus Food 2019 in Greater Noida, the International Indian Jewelry Show Signature in Mumbai, the Food Festival of India in Jeddah, the Film Festival of India in Jeddah, Global Exhibition on Services in Mumbai, Business Opportunities in India in Jeddah, and Tea Around the World in Jeddah.

The crown prince’s visit has great political significance, too. While energy and economic cooperation will remain the mainstay of bilateral ties, the two nations are trying to strengthen their cooperation in defense and security. The Ministry of External Affairs has talked of a growing desire in Riyadh for stronger strategic relations and improved intelligence sharing.