A new era of India-Arab economic ties dawns By Aroonim Bhuyan New Delhi, Aug 23 (IANS) As the world fights an economic downturn, a new dimension is being added to trade and business relations between India and the Arab world, enhancing centuries-old ties between two sides of the Arabian Sea. Though Arab countries, particularly the Gulf nations, have traditionally been looked at as an important source of oil and gas for India, today it has changed into cooperation across multiple sectors marked by cross-investments from both sides. Following the signing of a memorandum of cooperation between India and the Arab countries during a visit of Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the League of Arab Nations, to India late last year, the two sides are in the process of putting in place a structure of multi-faceted cooperation. India is also working on sealing a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which has Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as its members. Nothing reflects the rapidly growing ties between the two sides across multiple sectors more than trade figures. Of India’s total international trade to the tune of $414.54 billion in 2007-08, Arabcountries accounted for 20.99 percent. Within the Arab world, India’s trade with the GCC nations alone rose to $66.75 billion in 2007-08, or 16.1 percent of the country’s total global trade. And within the GCC, the country’s trade with the UAE increased to $29.11 billion in the same period, making it India’s largest trading partner after China and the US. Most of the five million expatriate Indians in the Middle East are concentrated in the Gulf countries, making this an important factor in the growing ties between the two sides. India’s trade with the Arab region, which gained prominence in the post-liberalisation drive, accelerated in the first decade of the new century as figures revealed by Larbi Moukhariq, the ambassador of Morocco to India and dean of the Arab Diplomatic Corps, show. “India-Arab trade stood at $7 billion in 2001. This rose to $20 billion in 2005-06 and was nearing the $100 billion-mark in 2009,” Moukhariq said recently at an event here to mark the release of a manual on business and trade opportunities in India and theArab world. True, energy security continues to be the topmost priority for India as far as the Arab world is concerned. According to Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, apart from the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan and the Maghreb have emerged as important areas for India’s energy security. “Indian companies have secured concessions or otherwise invested in the oil sector significantly in Sudan, Egypt and Libya,” he said at the manual launch event. Besides energy security, the Arab world has also gained importance for India from the food security point of view. “Less publicised perhaps is the enormous importance for India’s food security countries such as Jordan, Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia as providers of rock phosphate, phosphoric acid and potash, all of which translate into fertiliser for our farmers,” Tharoor said. This apart, several Indian companies have either set up or are in the process of executing a number of projects in the Gulf region, including a thermal power plant in Sudan, a cement plant in Djibouti, an architecturally complex bridge in Jordan and a variety of projects in Libya. And what do the Arab countries stand to gain from this engagement with India? “In many areas, countries of the Arab world have the capital while India offers the opportunities, especially in the development of infrastructure,” Tharoor said. Beyond that, the Arab countries can look forward to India for sharing its vast experience and expertise in institutional capacity building, governance, science and technology, IT, biotechnology, healthcare and higher education. Why this is important is because the Arab countries are shifting their traditional economic dependence from oil and gas to the knowledge sector. According to Ahmed S. Al-Wahishi, chief representative of the League of Arab States Mission in New Delhi, India is a growing world power with which theArab world has common strategic interests. “Our growing partnership with India is not only based on historic ties and values but also now based on an increasing convergence of strategic interests in Asia and beyond,” he wrote in his message in the manual.