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Remarks by Minister of State for External Affairs during the Panel Discussion on India and the Gulf: Leveraging energy partnerships, investment opportunities and emerging technologies for 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' at the PBD Conference

December 11, 2020

Secretary (CPV and OIA), Ministry of External Affairs, Shri Sanjay Bhattacharya
Secretary General of FICCI, Shri Dilip Chenoy
Esteemed Panelists from across the GCC
Our Ambassadors and senior officials in GCC

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to deliver this keynote address on how India and the Gulf countries can leverage their energy partnerships and utilize investments opportunities and emerging technologies towards Atmanirbhar Bharat. As you all know this panel discussion has been organized in the run up to the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2021 which will be organized next month. As such, one of our main goals is to consult prominent members of the Indian community in the Gulf on the topic and to connect the community with Prime Minister’s vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

You are all aware of the clarion call given by Hon'ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi for Atmanirbhar Bharat even as India was grappling with the Covid-19 crisis. The aim is to make India self-reliant and not self-centered or inward-looking. India’s global partnerships and connections will play an important role in realization of the vision of Prime Minister. We believe that India’s unique historic, close and friendly relations with the Gulf countries place both sides in a position to realize and benefit from an Atmanirbhar Bharat.

As Prime Minister has outlined there are five pillars of Atmanirbhar Bharat namely economy, infrastructure, technology in governance, demography and demand. It is fairly intuitive to see that the Gulf countries and the Indian diaspora in these countries would relate to each of these five pillars. It is therefore not a surprise that Prime Minister Modi has attached the highest importance to India’s relations with the Gulf region. This can be gauged from the fact that since 2014, Prime Minister himself has visited Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE thereby strengthening our already strong relations with all these countries. We have also been honoured to host visits at the highest levels from several Gulf countries in the past few years. Many important agreements and MOUs have signed during especially in the areas of trade and investment, infrastructure, energy and strategic sectors and technologies. Our relations with UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman have been raised to strategic partnership.

Besides our strong and historic people-to-people ties, energy has been the mainstay of India’s relations with the Gulf countries. 53% of India's oil imports and 41% of gas imports come from the Gulf region. India will continue to need more energy - oil and gas based as well as renewable – for its development needs. It is therefore a matter of great satisfaction that in the past few years India and the Gulf countries have deepened their energy relationship and moved from a traditional buyer-seller relationship to a more robust partnership.

For instance, UAE for the first time offered Indian companies a 10% concession in the Lower Zakum oilfield during Prime Minister’s visit to UAE in 2018. UAE has also invested in the strategic petroleum reserve of Government of India. A similar agreement was signed with Saudi Arabia in 2019. We also look forward to investments from UAE and Saudi Arabia for the large planned refinery in Maharashtra. In Prime Minister’s telephone call with Qatar’s Amir on December 8, both countries resolved to explore Qatari investments in the entire energy value-chain in India. The Gulf countries have also been generous in helping India in ensuring oil and gas supplies during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Movement towards alternative energy sources is leading to a new partnership between India and the Gulf in renewable energy sources. Collaboration in solar and other renewable energy sources will provide future energy solutions to both sides. UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman have become member states of the International Solar Alliance which was an initiative launched by India. We are hopeful that other Gulf countries will also become members soon. This will provide us an excellent framework to share experiences and best practices and launch joint projects in the field of solar energy. Both India and the Gulf countries have some of the largest solar parks and have shown leadership in utilizing technology to reduce solar energy cost. I am sure that we could similarly find opportunities to work together in other areas of renewable energy such as nuclear, wind, geothermal and hydrogen.

Atmanirbhar Bharat also provides a vision of India’s plans to become a 5 trillion dollar economy by promoting Make in India - Make for World. In this endeavour India will be dependent on attracting investments from its partners across the world, but in particular from the Gulf countries. The thrust will be on joint ventures in infrastructure and manufacturing, integrating into supply chains and tapping sovereign wealth funds. Some of the sunrise sectors identified by Government of India and which should be also be looked at by investors from the Gulf include food products, high efficiency solar PV cells, electronic and technology products, auto components, pharmaceuticals, telecom and networking products, speciality steels, white goods and advanced chemical cell battery.

I believe that food security and health security could emerge as big areas of cooperation between India and the Gulf. Indian doctors and nurses have already shown their mettle including in the difficult circumstances of Covid-19 pandemic. Another focus will be on innovation and start-ups, for entrepreneurial collaborations that are future oriented. The success of Indian start-ups in IT, e-commerce, hospitality, logistics and others can leverage higher growth and economic ties. The Gulf countries with their surplus capital, open economies and connections with different regions of the world such as Africa, Central Asia and Europe are well placed to partner with India in its quest. This is a win-win proposition for both India and Gulf.

We have already seen a quantum jump in investments from Gulf countries, both from sovereign wealth funds and large corporates into India. Abu Dhabi Investment Authority has emerged as a major investor in National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF) and various Indian companies. Another iconic UAE company, DP World is also investing through NIIF and directly in ports and other companies. Mubadala from UAE is also looking at various opportunities. You would have all seen the announcements from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund PIF in companies such as Reliance and OYO. Qatar Investment Authority has invested $600 million in two Indian companies. Kuwait Investment Authority has invested more than $3 billion in India. This provides only a snapshot and I am sure that we will continue to get more and more investments from Gulf into India. Government of India has already made special desks to look into investments from different countries.

It will also be up to the Indian professionals working in the Gulf to keep the decision-makers aware of the new opportunities in India. There are plenty of them today and these will continue to grow in future. On the part of Government of India I can assure you that our Government remains committed to further improve Ease of Doing Business and Ease of Living in India. Government has already brought in path-breaking reforms in several areas of the economy including relaxation in FDI norms, manufacturing, taxation, banking laws, labour laws, mining and agriculture. We are confident that as normalcy returns after Covid-19 pandemic, we will go back on high economic growth path.

While leveraging investments from the Gulf, India should also look at using its own competitive advantage in the areas of technology and human resources. New Emerging Technologies, especially in ICT, Artificial Intelligence, blockchain, consultancy, fin-tech, logistics, edutech, healthtech and biotech have enormous potential. These will promote efficiencies and usher future growth and development. In some ways, we need to transform a segment of our economic interaction to an "ahead of the curve” partnership focused on technology collaboration, R&D and high capital-intensive projects that drive future oriented growth. In this endeavour, we can build on the complementarities between India and the Gulf. India can contribute technology, human resources and its large market while the Gulf countries can easily bring in capital and innovation.

Cooperation in high technology areas such as defence and space also has special potential to be stepped up. We have cooperation agreements in both sectors with many countries in the Gulf and we need to use them to forge close partnerships. With the increased participation of private sector in these areas, the potential for cooperation is much higher. In defence, we can expand equipment and armament export as well as collaborations under Make in India. In space, where we are world leaders, there is potential for training, fabrication and launch of satellites, use of satellite data and others.

Covid-19 caused unprecedented disruption across all sectors across the world but it has also shown our inter-dependence whether it be for energy supplies, food security, medical supplies or vaccine research and production. India and the Gulf countries have worked together to tide over this unprecedented crises. The Gulf countries took great care of the Indians in their countries especially during the time we had lockdowns in India. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Gulf leadership for their generosity. On our part, we also ensured that supply chains, especially on food and medicines, between India and the Gulf continue uninterrupted despite the lockdowns in India. We also made sure that Indian medical professionals are able to return to the Gulf countries.

While showing our inter-dependence, Covid-19 also showed that the world needs diverse sources of supplies in all areas and not be overly dependent on one or a few. I feel that India and the Gulf countries can together provide diversified sources whether in the field of energy, food or medicine. The challenge is only how we transform and gear ourselves to leverage our relations for our benefit and to the benefit of our partner countries on the way towards an Atmanirbhar Bharat and a 5 trillion dollar economy in the shorter term. I am sure today’s discussions will bring out some creative suggestions in this regard.

Thank you.

New Delhi
December 11, 2020

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