Saudi crown prince’s India visit to boost bilateral investment

Saudi and Indian cabinet ministers stand as Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman inspects an honor guard during his ceremonial reception at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan presidential palace in New Delhi, India, on February 20, 2019. (REUTERS/Adnan Abidi)
Updated 21 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
  • India’s bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia was worth $27.48 billion in the financial year 2017-18

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.


Abu Dhabi aims to lure start-ups with investment in new technology hub

Updated 17 min 5 sec ago
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Abu Dhabi aims to lure start-ups with investment in new technology hub

  • The initiative will help Abu Dhabi reduce reliance on oil
  • Mubadala hopes to attract Chinese and Indian companies

ABU DHABI: Abu Dhabi will commit up to $272 million to support technology start-ups, it said on Sunday, in a dedicated hub as part of efforts to diversify its economy.

US tech giant Microsoft will be a strategic partner, providing technology and cloud services to the businesses that join the hub as the capital of the United Arab Emirates continues its push to reduce reliance on oil revenue.
Abu Dhabi derives about 50 percent of its real gross domestic product and about 90 percent of central government revenue from the hydrocarbon sector, according to ratings agency S&P.
The emirate launched a $13.6 billion stimulus fund, Ghadan 21, in September last year to accelerate economic growth. Ghadan means tomorrow in Arabic. The new initiative, named Hub 71, is linked to Ghadan will also involve the launch of a $136 million fund to invest in start-ups, said Ibrahim Ajami, head of Mubadala Ventures, the technology arm of Mubadala Investment Co.
The goal is to have 100 companies over the next three to five years, Ajami said. “The market opportunities in this region are immense,” he added.
Mubadala, with assets of $225 billion and a big investor in tech companies, will act as the driver of the hub, located in the emirate’s financial district.
Softbank will be active in the hub and support the expansion of companies in which it has invested, Ajami said, adding that Mubadala is also aiming to attract Chinese and Indian companies, among others.
Mubadala which has committed $15 billion to the Softbank Vision Fund, plans to launch a $400 million fund to invest in leading European technology companies.
Incentives mapped out by the government include housing, office space and health insurance as part of the $272 million commitment, Ajami said.
Abu Dhabi will also announce a new research and development initiative on Monday linked to the Ghadan 21 plan, according to an invitation sent to journalists.