Up close with Mohammad bin Salman
Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi broke the protocol yet again to welcome Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS). The Crown Prince too, in a welcome gesture, decided not to make his trip to India as a continuation of his trip to Pakistan but returned back to Riyadh only to travel to India the next day. This was India’s diplomatic win vis-a-vis Saudi Crown Prince with India ensuring that it was not hyphenated with Pakistan.
The Saudi Crown Prince announced investment opportunities worth US$ 100 billion in various sectors in India. He further said that if India eases its land-purchase norms, including agri-land, for foreigners, huge Saudi investments would start flowing into India. Interestingly, a similar offer was made during TPCI’s flagship event – IndusFood – held in January 2019, by the visiting UAE Food Security Delegation, which too wanted to purchase huge blocks of farmland in India – but the proposal was rejected by the Government representatives from Indian side, as not being feasible. MBS informed that Saudi Arabia has already invested US$44 billion on refinery in India since the PM’s visit in 2016.
Other than mentioning opportunities for investment of more than US$ 100 billion in India, the Saudi Crown Prince talked of increased cooperation and economic ties. He even talked of his kingdom’s commitment to meeting India’s growing needs for crude oil and petroleum products and substitute for any shortages that may arise in future.
Amin Al-Nasser, CEO of Saudi major, Aramco – billed as the world’s most profitable company and also the world’s biggest crude oil producer – who accompanied the high profile Saudi business delegation to India, has begun talks with Indian refining giant Reliance Industries and other companies for investing in refineries and petrochemicals projects in the country. This investment plan will be over and above the proposed US$ 44 billion Ratnagiri refinery and petrochemical project being set up by Aramco and India’s public sector oil companies in Maharashtra.
The Saudi Arabian General Investment Company (SAGIA) too is looking at investing more than US$ 28 million in the near future. This was revealed by Ibrahim Al-Omar, Governor SAGIA, on the sidelines of MBS’s visit. SAGIA signed four investment agreements and II memorandum of understanding (MoUs) covering a range of partnerships across strategic growth sectors, including energy and water, technology, arts and entertainment, healthcare, trade and investment. This reflects the strength and diversification of the Saudi economy, besides the opportunities being unlocked for private sector businesses by widespread economic and social reforms as part of Vision 2030.
The 11 MoUs signed related to strategic growth sectors between several government entities including the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the General Entertainment Authority, the National Industrial Clusters Development Program (NICDP) and SAGIA with leading Indian firms including TCS, Wipro, Glenmark and ION Exchange. Licenses were also granted to AWJ Energy, SecurEyes, Carnival Cinemas and Red Sea Arabia Company to begin operations in Saudi Arabia. The license to Carnival Cinemas is significant as Saudi Arabia is opening up to entertainment in a big way, with several entertainment options including the much-publicized Qiddiya Entertainment City coming up in the desert, about 40 km away from Riyadh. This city is envisaged to be about 2.5 times bigger than Disneyland.
And last, but not the least, in a significant step, Saudi Arabia decided to join the International Solar Alliance, being propagated by India.
About three million Indians live and work in Saudi Arabia, which is also the source of 17% of India’s crude oil and 32% of LPG requirement. Bilateral trade between the two countries exceeds US$25 billion, second highest next to UAE in the GCC region. India has also been put on the Saudi’s preferred list of countries for doing business.
These mutual interests and the need to enhance engagement became the chief motive for Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi to break protocol to get up close with Saudi Crown Prince who too, like good friends, decided to travel extra but didn’t give India an opportunity for a blush, had he come directly from Pakistan.