30 May 2015
JEDDAH: Commerce and Industry Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah and India's Finance Minister Arun Jaitley co-chaired the 11th Saudi-Indian Joint Commission meeting in New Delhi on Thursday, with talks focused on strengthening trade ties.
This was the 11th meeting of the joint commission. The last one was held in January 2014 in Riyadh when the Indian delegation was led by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.
In the Indian capital, the Saudi delegation had a packed schedule.
Al-Rabiah and his fellow delegates met Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Communications and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Jaitley hosted a dinner for them on Thursday. It was attended by Saudi Ambassador Saud Al-Saty, ministerial adviser Abdullah Al-Obaid, and Indian businessmen, including Zafar Sareshwala, a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Al-Rabiah thanked his hosts for their warm hospitality and said investments remain one of the key pillars of development between the two countries.
"Saudi-Indian trade ties remain very strong," he said.
The signing of the Riyadh Declaration during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Riyadh in 2010, raised the level of interaction to a strategic partnership involving the political, economic, security and defense areas.
Saudi Arabia is the fourth-largest market for Indian merchandise, while for Saudi Arabia, India is the fifth-largest market for its exports. Annual bilateral trade stands at nearly $50 billion.
In terms of imports, India ranks seventh and was the source of around 3.5 percent of Saudi Arabia's total imports in 2013.
Aside from these figures, there are nearly 3 million Indians working in Saudi Arabia who provide the vital glue for the strong bonds between the two countries.
"I was very impressed by the minister and his delegation and the Saudi ambassador," said Sareshwala, who is a vocal advocate of strong Saudi-Indian ties.
"The two countries have huge potential that has not been tapped as yet," he said.
"India is an ideal market for Saudis, especially since our prime minister has cut red tape and made doing business easy in India."
According to Sareshwala, one of the key goals of the current government is to create smart cities.
"This is where Saudis can play a pivotal role," he said. "The Saudis have successfully created smart cities, like the ones in Jubail and Yanbu in the past and Rabigh and Jazan now. They can help India in its quest to create similar cities."
Sareshwala said Saudi construction companies can take part in infrastructure projects, IT, and other projects.
"Prime Minister Modi's focus is on 'Make in India.' Make your product here, tap the domestic market and export your stuff. Now is the time for Saudis to increase their investment in India," said Sareshwala.
For India, Saudi Arabia is a major pillar for its energy security and an important economic partner for investments, joint ventures, and transfer of technology projects.
There are nearly 80 major Indian companies operating in the Kingdom, including Wipro, Infosys, Tata Motors, State Bank of India, Tata Consultancy Services and Larsen & Toubro. Since mid-2000, a number of Indian firms have taken advantage of the new Saudi laws and established joint venture projects or wholly owned subsidiaries in the Kingdom.
Sareshwala said he has urged the government to cater for Indians in Saudi Arabia because they are among the largest providers of foreign currency.
"At nearly 3 million, they are the largest community in the Indian diaspora in the world," he added.
© Arab News 2015