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India-Saudi ties take wing, digital infrastructure become new frontier to conquer

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman (Image courtesy: IANS)

India’s role in Saudi Arabia is set to get amplified as the kingdom increases focus on expanding digital infrastructure and economy, which has been outlined in the Vision 2030 to drive modernization and diversification. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 aims to increase non-oil GDP to 50 per cent, which has led to increased investments to improve the digital ecosystem.

The just concluded G20 summit followed by the state visit of Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman – MBS, as he is popularly known, to India has been a booster as well.

During the state visit, among the many memoranda of understanding (MoUs), inked between the two countries, aimed at enhancing cooperation in several fields, digitisation is one key area.

Recently, India and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement seeking to enhance cooperation on digitization and electronic manufacturing.

The agreement, which was signed by Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Alswaha, aims to boost cooperation and exchange of knowhow in the fields of digital infrastructure, e-health, and e-learning while strengthening partnership in digital research and innovation and the use of emerging technologies.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and MBS have now agreed to expedite negotiations on a free trade agreement between New Delhi and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

The GCC bloc, headquartered in Riyadh, is made up of six countries – UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia with the aim of achieving Arab regional unity. More than eight million Indians currently live in the GCC countries. Indians comprise the largest expatriate group in the region. The number is expected to rise in the coming years.

On his departure from India MBS sent a note thanking Modi saying. “I commend the positive outcomes we reached during the Saudi-Indian Strategic Partnership Council meeting, which will have a significant impact on cooperation between our two countries,” he said.

India is the second largest trade partner for Saudi Arabia while the Gulf major is New Delhi’s fourth largest trading partner. During 2022-23 bilateral trade between the two was estimated at over $52 billion. More than 18 per cent of India’s total crude requirements are sourced from Saudi Arabia.

Direct investments from Saudi Arabia into India amounted to over $3 billion.

“However, the focus now is switching from traditional spaces to new economies such as digital framework, that will be one of the thrust areas where cooperation will be expanded,” said an analyst.

Also read: India and Saudi Arabia think big after signing corridor deal, ink 8 agreements to bolster energy, food security and defence ties