Indian-Saudi ties continue to reach new heights
On the joyous occasion of the 73rd Republic Day of India, I would like to extend my warm greetings and felicitations to all Indian nationals, persons of Indian origin and friends of India in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
This Republic Day coincides with the ongoing celebrations of “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav,” commemorating 75 years of India’s independence and its achievements. As a newly independent state, India reached out to Saudi Arabia to consolidate its age-old and historical trade and people-to-people ties into formal diplomatic ties.
Despite being a comparatively young nation, India has emerged as one of the leading nations on the global stage in terms of educational, scientific, technological and economic progress, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. On this journey, the country was guided by its core democratic principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, evolving into a truly pluralistic society, embracing diversity and committing to provide equal opportunities for all its citizens.
As the world is gradually recovering from the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is looking keenly at the growth story of a technology-enabled India, which has shown an appetite for innovation, the adoption of technology, digitalization and automation.
According to the latest “Global Economic Prospects” report by the World Bank, India’s economy is expected to grow by 8.3 percent this fiscal year and 8.7 percent in 2022-23, outpacing other developing economies like China, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
India now has a $3.1 trillion economy, making it the sixth largest in the world, behind only the US, China, Japan, Germany and the UK. India is likely to overtake Japan as Asia's second-largest economy by 2030, when its gross domestic product is also projected to surpass those of Germany and the UK to rank as the world’s No. 3.
India also has the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world after the US and China. Indian startups raised $42 billion in 2021, up from $11.5 billion in 2020. In 2021, India added 46 new unicorns, doubling the number of its privately owned startups worth more than $1 billion to 90, with a combined valuation of $320 billion. It is expected that, by 2025, the number of Indian unicorns will grow to 180 to 200, with a cumulative valuation of $600 billion to $700 billion, offering tremendous opportunities for investors in sectors like education technology, fintech, health technology and software as a service.
In the last 75 years, India has carved out a prominent place for itself in global politics, emerging as a strong voice in the UN and other international bodies. It has taken up critical issues such as counterterrorism, the reform of global institutions, maritime security, peacekeeping, climate change and sustainable development.
India is a proponent of reformed multilateralism and stands for a free, open and inclusive region in our common pursuit of progress and prosperity, in which freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded commerce is guaranteed. India advocates a democratic, rules-based and fair international order that emphasizes respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality of all nations, irrespective of size, population and military might.
Over the next 25 years, as we look toward “[email protected],” when the country will celebrate a centenary of independence, we can visualize India as the world’s technological and economic powerhouse, while bolstering our democratic and pluralistic values.
Since independence, India’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has evolved into a multi-faceted and mutually beneficial strategic partnership encompassing several key areas of engagement, including defense and security cooperation, investments, healthcare, technology, energy security and food security.
Last March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held a call to review various aspects of bilateral relations in 2021. India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had wide-ranging discussions with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, during the latter’s visit to New Delhi in October. The energy ministers of both countries have also been consulting each other to review bilateral energy cooperation.
In the domain of defense ties, the first joint naval exercise between the two countries, known as Al-Mohed Al-Hindi, was conducted in August 2021 to carry out tactical maneuvers, search and rescue operations, and an electronic warfare drill to enhance interoperability. The exercise was carried out using guided-missile destroyer INS Kochi, the flagship destroyer of the Indian Navy’s Western Fleet. A few months earlier, INS Talwar carried out a passage exercise with the Royal Saudi Navy ship HMS Khalid in the Arabian Gulf.
India has regularly deployed its ships in the region on missions such as safeguarding maritime trade, conducting anti-piracy and anti-narcotic operations, carrying out exclusive economic zone surveillance at the request of partner countries in Asia and Africa, training naval officers, and conducting hydrographic surveys.
India-Saudi Arabia trade and commerce continued unabated despite the pandemic, with bilateral trade touching $25 billion between April and November 2021. India’s exports during this period crossed $5.75 billion and, according to this trend, are likely to surpass pre-pandemic levels and even set new records. India emerged as the Kingdom’s second-largest trading partner during 2021, while Saudi Arabia remains India’s fourth-largest trading partner.
Indian companies are bullish about making investments in diverse sectors in the Kingdom in the light of the various opportunities that have emerged as a result of Vision 2030. There are currently 745 Indian companies registered with the Ministry of Investment of Saudi Arabia, with a total investment exceeding $2 billion in a range of sectors, such as construction, information and technology, transportation, hospitality, and healthcare.
Leading Indian mineral resources company Vedanta Limited is keen to explore the huge potential Saudi Arabia has in minerals, including zinc, gold and silver, while companies like Tata Group and KEC International are keen to expand their existing operations.
India’s multi-specialty hospital Medanta has held preliminary discussions exploring the possibility of opening a branch in the Kingdom. Healthcare is one of the 13 strategic sectors identified as priorities by the Public Investment Fund, which has itself recently invested in India-based health and fitness startup HealthifyMe. The embassy is in close contact with NUPCO and the Saudi Food and Drug Authority in the Kingdom and Pharmexcil in India to promote healthcare cooperation between the two countries.
In the field of energy, the Kingdom continues to be the second-largest supplier of crude oil to India after Iraq, accounting for about 18 percent of India’s total crude imports. Saudi Arabia is also the third-largest source of liquefied petroleum gas exports to India after Qatar and the UAE, accounting for 22.3 percent of our total. In the 2020-21 financial year, India’s hydrocarbons trade with Saudi Arabia accounted for about 61 percent of its total bilateral trade with the Kingdom.
Renewable energy is a promising sector offering huge potential for enhancing bilateral energy cooperation. Saudi companies such as the Alfanar group and ACWA Power have made sizable investments in the sector in India.
In the field of education, several Saudi universities are keen to forge meaningful collaborations with reputed institutions of higher learning in India, such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institute of Management and the Indian Institute of Science, besides leading universities. IIT Delhi is exploring the possibility of opening a campus in the Kingdom.
During 2021, I traveled extensively within the Kingdom, visiting provinces such as Qassim, Asir, Jazan and Najran, besides AlUla, and noticed that these provinces offer huge potential for investments and collaborations in areas such as hospitality, tourism, culture and entertainment, IT, technology and innovation.
India stands for a free, open and inclusive region in our common pursuit of progress and prosperity.
Dr. Ausaf Sayeed
At the regional level, the visit of Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Dr. Nayef Al-Hajraf to India in November has opened new vistas of cooperation between India and the GCC. Both sides have agreed to conclude a memorandum of understanding for institutionalizing the annual political dialogue and to begin negotiations for a free trade agreement.
Saudi Arabia hosts about 2.3 million Indians, whose contribution to the socioeconomic development and cultural enrichment of the Kingdom is widely acknowledged and appreciated. Over the years, the profile of the Indian diaspora in Saudi Arabia has diversified significantly to include entrepreneurs, investors, bankers and company CEOs, besides doctors, engineers and academicians. The Indian diaspora in Saudi Arabia has emerged as the third-largest source of foreign remittances in India.
As we commemorate 75 years of diplomatic ties between India and Saudi Arabia, I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to King Salman and the crown prince for guiding bilateral relations in a new direction and enabling the two countries to realize the potential that exists.
Long live the Indian-Saudi relationship.
- Dr. Ausaf Sayeed is India’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @drausaf