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.