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Saudi Arabia sees ties with India grow beyond energy

New Delhi, Dec 9 (IANS) A major source of India’s energy security, Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to expand its bilateral trade and investment ties beyond oil, notably in areas like food, chemicals and textiles, especially among smaller units.

With this on the agenda, the kingdom’s Deputy Minister of Industries Saleh S. Al-Solani led a large team from 33 Saudi companies here on Wednesday and the enthusiasm was evident with as many as 140 of their Indian counterparts turning up to exlore business options.

“This is for the first time we are doing something like this — specifically on promoting exports,” Al-Solami told IANS, adding that’s the reason why he has included in his team members of his country’s exports authority, which was formed just two years ago.

“Commerce and trade are vital parts of our strategic ties with India. We would like to grow our business. We would like to encourage our businesses to invest in your country. We will also encourage India to grow,” added Saudi Arabian Ambassador Saud Mohammed Alsati.

But the visiting minister said he also had a wish list: He wanted India to be more pragmatic on its taxation issues, and make it easier for Saudi companies to export from India and also set up shop in the country.

“We are also looking at India to export to third countries,” said Al-Solami, adding those he has on the mind include, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and others. Likewise, he said, his country can also prove to be a major hub for Indian companies to export to the Gulf region.

The Confederation of Indian Industry, which co-hosted the event with the Saudi Exporters Development Authority, said the two sides were also scheduled to hold a meeting of the joint business council and 30 CEOs from Saudi Arabia were expected to attend.

Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trade partner and a major source of energy security, accounting for around 20 percent of its crude oil needs. But imports from Saudi Arabia fell 22.42 percent to $28.2 billion last year, due to a successive fall in global oil prices.

On the other hand, India is the fifth largest market for Saudi exports, accounting for 8.87 percent of the country’s shipments to the kingdom — the quantum of which also declined 8.61 percent last year to $11.2 billion.

Minister Al Solami said his country was keen that the volume of trade does not fall due to a few commodities and wants the basket of shipments to expand, both in terms of imports and exports to as to see a growth in bilatral trade.

In terms of investments, the minister said some 50 Saudi companies were already operating in India, including Saudi Aramco and Sabic, which also has a research centre in Bengaluru. Likewise some 75 Indian companies operate there, such as Wipro, TCS, L&T, Godrej Group, ITC.

Earlier this month, the Saudi Indian Business Network, along with the Indian embassy in Saudi Arabia, organised a B2B meeting for 13 participating company delegates with Saudi businessmen from the health, cosmetic and chemical sectors.