RIYADH: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Saudi King Salman on Sunday during his first official visit to the kingdom, home to a large number of Indian workers and a major trade partner that supplies around 19 per cent of India’s crude oil imports.
Modi’s visit underscored the major business ties between the two countries, despite Saudi Arabia’s historically close relationship with Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia is traditionally India’s largest supplier of crude oil, and India is one of the world’s largest consumers of crude. Trade between the two countries reached $39 billion in 2014, according to a joint statement released after Modi’s meeting with King Salman.
Two sides pledge to cooperate in intelligence sharing on terror financing and money laundering and to promote investments
Saudi Arabia is seeking to keep its edge over rival Iran, which is looking to increase its own oil exports to India. The kingdom is also rushing to diversify its economy as lower global oil prices impact revenue.
The two sides signed five agreements, including plans to cooperate in intelligence sharing related to terror financing and money laundering, as well as a labour cooperation agreement and another to promote bilateral investments in the private sector.
The two sides also agreed on the need to intensify defence cooperation through mutual visits by military experts and joint military exercises.
In a joint statement, King Salman and Prime Minister Modi said they condemned terrorism and rejected any attempts “to link this universal phenomenon to any particular race, religion or culture”.
Modi, who has come under fire for his party’s links to hard-line Hindu groups, has long had an uneasy relationship with his country’s roughly 120 million Muslims.
Modi gifted King Salman a gold-plated replica of a mosque in Kerala, India, which was built by Arab traders in the early 7th Century. For his part, King Salman awarded Modi Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian award, the King Abdulaziz Sash.
Modi also met Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef and held one-to-one talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and board chairman of Aramco, Abdulaziz al-Faleh, who is also the health minister.
Earlier on Sunday, he spoke at the Saudi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, met members of India’s business community and visited an all-women information technology centre run by the Indian Tata Consultancy Services in Riyadh.
Modi kicked off his tour on Saturday with a visit to a labour camp where he was pictured eating a traditional dinner with Indian workers amid tight security.
India and other South Asian countries supply oil-rich Gulf Arab nations with millions of migrant labourers who take on low-paying jobs as construction workers, waiters, cleaners and drivers — jobs that Gulf nationals have often shunned.
Modi was quoted on his Twitter account and in Indian media as telling the workers in Riyadh that a round-the-clock helpline would be established for them. He said his government would create resource centres for Indian workers in Saudi Arabia’s two largest cities of Riyadh and Jeddah.
Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2016