Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Vice President of the Council of Ministers, and Minister of Defence, HRH Mohammed Bin Salman, was received at AFS Palam, New Delhi by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 19 February, 2019.
The two-day state visit will see the Crown Prince meeting Indian Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, and President Ram Nath Kovind, in Delhi. The Crown Prince’s visit marks his first tour of India, and follows a visit to Saudi Arabia by PM Modi in April 2016.
According to a statement by the Swaraj-led external affairs ministry, India and Saudi Arabia are expected to sign five memorandums of understanding (MoUs) and agreements during the visit. These deals will cover the investment, tourism, housing, and information and broadcasting sectors.
Saudi Arabia has also stated its intention to join the International Solar Alliance, led by India. The ministry said the move was “indeed welcome”, and is likely to spur greater collaboration between India and Saudi Arabia, with the kingdom steadily increasing its investment in the renewable energy sector.
Indian companies such as Larsen & Toubro and Shapoorji Pallonji, both Bombay-headquartered firms, have already expressed an interest in building Saudi Arabian gigaprojects like Neom, as Construction Week reported late in 2018. The Indian ministry said that Saudi’s large-scale developments, including The Red Sea Project and Qiddiya entertainment city, would continue to be targeted by Indian companies.
Among Saudi Arabia’s investments in India is the $44bn Ratnagiri Refinery and Petro-Chemical project, which the state-held Saudi Aramco is partnering with the UAE’s Adnoc for. India’s partners in the Maharashtra scheme include Indian Oil Company, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd, and Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd.
“Other areas of interest for joint collaboration are fertilisers, food security, infrastructure, [and] renewable energy,” India’s external affairs ministry announced in a statement.
“During a recent meeting which a Niti Aayog-led delegation had with its Saudi counterpart, areas such as [information technology], healthcare and pharmaceuticals, electronic and manufacturing facilities, and housing were identified as potential areas of enhanced cooperation.”
Bilateral trade between Saudi Arabia and India reached $27.48bn during the 2017-18 financial year, making the kingdom India’s fourth-largest trading partner. Saudi Arabia supplies 20% of India’s crude requirements, and is home to a 2.7-million strong community of Indian expats, with more than 175,000 Indians attending the holy Hajj pilgrimage each year.
PM Modi is expected to host high-level talks with the Crown Prince and his delegation of senior government and business officials at Hyderabad House. Among the points of discussion on the agenda are collaboration in the defence sector, including joint production and joint naval exercises, and an extension of the countries’ multibillion-dollar cooperation in trade and economy development.
The visit will also see the formation of the Saudi-Indian Forum, according to the kingdom’s local daily Saudi Gazette. Government agencies, driven by Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, or Sagia, and Saudi Centre for International Strategic Partnerships, will be a part of the new organisation. Collaboration through the forum is expected to support Saudi Arabia’s long-term economic diversification programme, Vision 2030.
India-Pakistan-China: Pivot to Asia
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince is in India after meeting with Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan in Islamabad on 17-18 February, when $20bn (SAR75bn) were committed by the kingdom for investment in the Asian country. Saudi and Pakistan formed the Joint Supreme Coordination Council, which will be chaired by the Crown Prince and PM Khan, during the official state visit.
A similar trade-driven forum to the India-Pakistan bodies is expected to be launched in Beijing this Friday, when the Crown Prince will complete his tour of Asia with an official visit to China, Saudi Gazette reported.