His Excellency Mr Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, President of the Maldives
His Excellency Mr Fayyaz Ismail, Minister of Economic Development of Maldives
Mr Hussain Niyaz, High Commissioner of Maldives to India Mr Munu Mahawar, High Commissioner of India to Maldives
Mr Sanjeev Bajaj, President, CII
Mr Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, CII
Business leaders from Maldives and India
Good evening and Namaskaram,
I take this opportunity to extend a warm welcome to H.E. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and his delegation to India. It is an honour for me to participate in this Business Forum of select CEOs from both countries, which is a significant element of the visit.
2. India and Maldives share a time-honoured partnership with historical, cultural, and commercial links steeped in antiquity. Maldives is a key partner for India in the Indian Ocean Region. I am pleased to note that the ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ of India has acted in concert with the ‘India-First Policy’ of Maldives to deliver a partnership with engagement extending to virtually all areas. The personal warmth at the level of our leadership – Prime Minister Modi and President Solih - has further lent momentum to our bilateral relations.
3. I truly believe that the success of a partnership between two countries should be gauged by the tangible benefits that it delivers to its peoples. The India-Maldives partnership is an unambiguous success by this parameter. Our two countries have worked very closely to address the health and economic challenges of COVID. Earlier today, we witnessed the tangible progress in flagship development cooperation projects. Our development cooperation is human-centric and reflects the priorities of the Government and people of Maldives.
4. Business linkages are a key tool that help deliver the benefits of a partnership to the peoples. India-Maldives trade ties with modest beginnings have shown a significant growth in the last two years, despite COVID! Today, India is Maldives 2nd largest trading partner – rising up from its 4th position in 2018. In 2021, bilateral trade registered a growth of 31 % over the previous year – overcoming the pandemic-related challenges. We are also witnessing greater investment flows from India to Maldives, particularly in the tourism sector.
5. This has not happened by chance. Our Governments have taken a series of steps to facilitate and stimulate bilateral economic cooperation, and I will enumerate some:
- First and foremost, connectivity has been a major game-changer. Amidst the gloomy international air travel environment of 2020, India and Maldives established an air travel bubble in August 2020. This has been a catalyst in the exponential growth in air connectivity. At its peak during the high tourist season in December 2021, over 80 flights ferried passengers on both sides every week! I am delighted to note that this catapulted India to the first position of the tourism markets for Maldives in 2020. India continues to hold that position for the 3rd year running.
- Implementation of visa-free travel has been another key enabler. Today, it is possible for Maldivians to travel to India without visa for tourism, business, education and medical treatment. Indian tourists and business travelers can also visit Maldives visa-free.
- Kerala has been traditionally the most frequented place of visit for Maldivians and it has the largest long term resident diaspora of Maldives. However, it is equally heartening to see Maldives diaspora spread to other States, especially Bengaluru that has now emerged as the education and medical hub for Maldivians.
- On the cargo side, operationalization of direct cargo vessel service between the two countries in September 2020 has contributed to the growth in trade by bringing in an element of predictability and regularity in the trade ties. The cargo vessel service was a commitment made by India during the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Maldives in June 2019.
6. Besides these steps, the various ongoing projects in the Maldives under grant and concessional loan assistance – worth close to USD 2.8 billion – have further energized the commercial linkages on both sides.
7. While we acknowledge these achievements, we should by no means feel satisfied as the potential for further growth in our economic ties is very high. It is a time to retrospect, evaluate and look at our commercial ties in a new light so as to add further value and heft to our relations!
8. In this context, I am pleased to note that the focus of today’s discussions in the Business Forum was on four important sectors of our business ties – fisheries, renewable energy, infrastructure and tourism.
9. Fisheries is a key sector for the Maldivian economy – both from the perspective of employment and exports. I am glad to note India’s all-round support to the Maldives in this sector. We are extending support in setting up fish-processing plants, ice plants across the islands as well as in expansion of facilities of the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company. Under South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), tuna and tuna products from the Maldives enjoy duty-free export. We urge Indian and Maldivian companies to explore potential for cooperation in this sector – in view of the huge market for tuna products that India can provide.
10. India is also committed to supporting Maldives in achieving its net zero emissions target by 2030. This was reiterated by Prime Minister earlier today during his talks with President Solih. This sector holds immense potential for Indian companies in the renewable energy space to explore partnerships with the Maldives, especially for solar and wind power.
11. I understand that several Indian companies are active in the infrastructure and tourism sectors in the Maldives. These two key sectors for Maldives provide ample space for more companies to explore partnerships. We would especially like to see greater participation of Indian companies in the resort development – undoubtedly the most significant sector for Maldivian economy – especially in the light of our booming tourism linkages.
12. I reiterate that there is huge potential for the India-Maldives commercial partnership to grow! We must encourage companies on both sides to realize the synergies and develop business linkages for mutual benefit. I hope that businesses/business chambers take full advantage of this opportunity for their benefit and people on both sides and take the India-Maldives partnership forward to greater heights of glory !