By H.E. Dr. Saud M. Al Sati,
Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, New Delhi
NEW DELHI (RAHNUMA) The camaraderie between Saudi Arabia and India rests on centuries of socio-economic, cultural, and civilizational interaction. However, the last decade has been particularly seminal in shaping the spectrum of strategic relations the two countries share. The transformative reforms in both countries have offered limitless possibilities in multiple domains.
Our strategic partnership has further strengthened since the formation of the Saudi Indian Strategic Partnership Council (SPC) in October 2019 during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Riyadh. Earlier, in the same year, HRH Crown Prince made his first state visit to the Republic of India during which the SPC was agreed. The visit reaffirmed the deep commitment of the two nations to strengthen their friendship and boost their strategic cooperation.
With bilateral trade touching $33 billion, India is the third-largest trade partner of Saudi Arabia. Trade and energy cooperation continued to have a central role in our bilateral cooperation.
Accounting for 18% of India’s crude oil requirement and 30% of its LPG needs, the Kingdom continues to play a major role as India’s energy partner. However, in the last few years, our relations with India have progressed toward a closer strategic partnership including in fields of energy, trade, and investment. Over the past few years, Saudi Aramco’s spending on material services sourced from Indian suppliers has neared $2 billion. Saudi Aramco has also been investing in India’s value chain from oil supply, marketing, and refining to petrochemicals and lubricants, as a key part of its global downstream strategy.
Saudi Arabian Oil Company recently tied up with Indian conglomerate L&T to establish the region’s first Heavy Wall Pressure Vessels facility at Jubail Industrial City. Aramco India also signed an MoU with National Small Industries Corporation Limited to promote sourcing requirements and assist Indian suppliers. Progress is also being made in the $44 billion refinery being set up by Saudi Aramco and Adnoc in India.
Indian companies are also operating in diverse sectors in Saudi Arabia such as management and consultancy services, construction projects, telecommunications, IT, financial services and software development, pharmaceuticals, and more. More than 500 Indian companies are registered as JVs. Most of the big known Indian corporations such as Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra L&T, Infosys, Wipro, Ashok Leyland, and many others have an active presence in the Kingdom.
As a reliable partner for food security, we source rice, meat, sugar, spices fruits, and other agricultural products from India. Our food security cooperation also has been boosted through investment in the agricultural sector and food processing. Saudi Agricultural & Livestock Investment Company is acquiring stakes in Indian agricultural companies, to secure agro-products.
As strategic members of the G20, Saudi Arabia and India have been working together to promote sustainable development. In 2020, Saudi Arabia presided over the G20 Summit and India contributed significantly to the deliberations of the G 20 meetings in Riyadh. The positive synergy of progress and ambitions between the two countries chalked out a host of initiatives aiming at creating a better future.
Both, Saudi Arabia and India have balanced the idea of economic growth with ecological development. India ranks fourth in the world in installed renewable energy capacity and is moving towards attaining the target of 450 GW of renewable energy while nurturing the ambition of becoming the world’s largest Green Hydrogen Hub. Saudi Arabia is also focusing on optimizing its energy mix. By 2030, it shall substitute liquid fuel with renewable energy sources for 50% of electricity generation.
The Kingdom has embarked upon a journey to drive sustainable change in the country and the region with ‘Saudi Green Initiative’ and the ‘Middle East Green Initiative’. As part of the programme, the Kingdom plans to plant 10 billion trees across the country, raise the percentage of protected areas to more than 30% of its total land area and reduce its carbon emissions by more than 4% of global contributions.
The Kingdom has also announced more than 60 initiatives that represent about SAR 700 billion in investments to contribute to the green economy. Saudi Arabia is leading the green era with its several initiatives aimed to combat climate change.
The Saudi economy is undergoing a qualitative shift, thanks to a multitude of initiatives including the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program, the National Transformation Program, the Human Capability Development Program, and the Quality-of-Life Program. This shift has created more opportunities for Saudi Arabia and India to collaborate and leapfrog into the future together.
Our cultural landscape has also been well placed at the heart of our bilateral interaction – right from India being welcomed as the guest of honour in 2018 at Al Janadriyah, the prestigious Saudi National Heritage Festival. India and Saudi Arabia are bound by culture and religion and particularly Hajj. Over the years, the Haj journey has facilitated the exchange of knowledge, culture and benefits.
The fascinating stories of the 19th and early 20th-century Indian Haj journeys to Makkah that I came across during my tenure in India are tales of faith. The sentimental attachment to the land of the Two Holy places led these devoted pilgrims to overcome great difficulties and hazards of travel through troublesome high seas and land. Today, the months-long journey to Makkah and Medina has been reduced to merely a matter of a few hours. With modern trains, flights, highways, and state-of-the-art infrastructure the Haj journey has become smooth and convenient.
The 21st century has witnessed further enhancement in our people-to-people exchanges. Millions of Indians have traveled to Saudi Arabia looking for job opportunities, and indeed, many of them have been able to carve out a successful niche for themselves in the kingdom. In an endeavor to ease the difficulties caused by the covid 19 pandemic, the recent formation of an air bubble arrangement to restart regular travel of people between Saudi Arabia and India will help in resuming the momentum of travel and exchanges between our two peoples.
In an effort to attract more talent, as part of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has introduced several reforms focused on enhancing the work environment. The Premium Residency Center in the Kingdom was established in 2019, to review permanent resident applications. The Saudi golden visa provides many benefits to visa holders including the ability to buy property, reduce shadow ownership business activities, sponsor family members, and exit the country without the need to get the employer’s permission. In 2020, Saudi Arabia launched a Labor Reform Initiative to streamline labor market procedures, define precise mechanisms, improve career mobility, and provide further protection for the rights of employers and employees.
Saudi Arabia is leveraging its rich heritage to transform into a tourist hub. There are several incredible gems hidden in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – a vast country that promises many surprises off the beaten track. The last couple of years have seen an investment increase in the tourism sector through the introduction of new attractions and services. In 2016, the Kingdom established the General Entertainment Authority to diversify the growth of leisure, creative, and tourism industries. In 2021, the Heritage Commission established the National Antiquities Register. 624 new archaeological and historic sites were recorded in the same year, with more than 8,000 locations registered so far. Located in the northwestern region of the country, AlUla is home to the Kingdom’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. As part of the transformation strategy, initiatives are also underway to create a well-felt world heritage presence for Riyadh, Jeddah, Al Ahsa, and Taif.
Our Giga project NEOM also offers great opportunities for Bollywood – one of the most dynamic film industries globally. As I believe, Indian producers are always on the lookout for fresh locations that provide logistical support and production incentives to give producers a competitive advantage. NEOM is creating the region’s first truly integrated media hub in Saudi Arabia, which provides an exciting opportunity for Indian producers with its unique locations as well as its production services support. NEOM is readying itself to provide a world-class infrastructure across screen production, gaming, and digital publishing, exploiting technology to expand the creative process beyond current boundaries. Also, with the Saudi Design Festival and the Saudi Film Festival, the Kingdom has become a welcoming ground to nourish creativity. Apart from NEOM, Red Sea, Diriyah Gate, and the Qiddiya projects are all powered by innovation.
It is a source of happiness for me to see our ties with the friendly Republic of India grow and flourish. I am confident that our friendship and strategic cooperation with the Republic of India will continue to deepen and become closer and stronger for the best interest of our two nations and the interest of the people of our region.
(Dr. Saud Bin Mohammed Al-Sati is the Outgoing Ambassador to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in New Delhi, Dr. Al-Sati recently completed ten years as Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to India.)