India important trading partner of Riyadh: Saudi commerce minister

Chandan Prakash Singh

Riyadh, Oct 31 (PTI) India is an important trading partner of Saudi Arabia and the bilateral ties will grow further after the signing of the Strategic Partnership Council Agreement to coordinate on important issues, a senior minister of the oil-rich Gulf Kingdom said on Thursday.

Noting that Saudi Arabia is a major source of energy supply to India, Minister for Commerce and Investment Majid bin Abdullah Al Qasabi said that the two countries could do more in several sectors.

'India could be a great platform for East Asia, Central Asia and for Saudi Arabia,' Al Qasabi said.

India, the world's third-largest oil consumer, imports 83 per cent of its oil needs.

Saudi Arabia is its second-biggest supplier after Iraq. It sold 40.33 million tonnes of crude oil to India in 2018-19 fiscal when the country imported 207.3 million tonnes of oil. India also buys some 200,000 tonnes of LPG every month from Saudi Arabia.

'Both the countries have 70 per cent of their population below the age group of 40 and they're tech-savvy. So India has the leverage and advantage in aviation, technology entrepreneurship, small and medium-sized enterprises.

'It's a win win situation,' Al Qasabi said, adding that the two countries could further enhance their cooperation.

Saudi Arabia last month said it was looking at investing USD 100 billion in India in areas of energy, refining, petrochemicals, infrastructure, agriculture, minerals and mining.

Responding to a question on the Saudi investment in India, the minister said Armaco is the Gulf Kingdom's number one investment in India.

'We have looked into building a refinery with the private sector. In fact, we have identified the opportunities as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already mentioned,' he said, referring to the proposed Raigad refinery in Maharashtra.

'That's a huge investment. The commitment is there. We are waiting by the government of India to choose the land. The Prime Minister said the new regional government has been elected. So we expect in a very short time the land will be decided. The ball is now is in their court,' he added.

Earlier, the project was proposed to come up at Nanar, a village in Ratnagiri district, some 400 km south of Mumbai. However, due to continued opposition from the locals, the project was relocated to neighbouring Raigad, about 100 km south of the financial capital.

The Indian companies will jointly own 49 per cent in the project, while the Saudi oil major has picked up 51 per cent stake.

'A USD 60 billion investment which will be put into refinery. India has great opportunities that could be potential for this investment,' Al Qasabi said.

'There's lot of synergies, similarities and alignment between the two countries,' he said, adding that Saudi Arabia can utilise Indian talents to enhance its position in sectors such as technology, pharmaceutical, agriculture and tourism.

Noting that Saudi has also invested small amount in the agriculture sector, he said it is a pilot project.

'We are very keen to see this relation grow bigger and investment is never an action, it's always a reaction based on opportunities, feasibilities, the return on the investment and stability. I hope after the special relations between the two leaders - Prime Minister Modi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, this will further flourish,' the minister said.

On a question on the Saudi investment in smart city or infrastructure projects in India, he said the Gulf Kingdom is keen to invest and develop even in the infrastructure in India.

In a significant boost to the strategic ties between India and Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Modi and Crown Prince Mohammed on Tuesday signed the Strategic Partnership Council Agreement to coordinate on important issues.

The council will be headed by Modi and Mohammed and meet every two years.

India's relations with Saudi Arabia have been on an upswing over the last few years based on burgeoning energy ties. India's bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia was at USD 27.48 billion in 2017-18, making Saudi Arabia its fourth largest trading partner. PTI ZH CPS AKJ CPS