Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman on Monday agreed on setting up a joint task force to help identify and channelise investments worth $100 billion in the West Coast refinery project in Maharashtra.
"Both sides extended their full support to the early implementation of the West Coast refinery projects... The two sides agreed to set up a joint task force to help in identifying and channelising the $100 billion investments promised by the Saudi side - half of which was for the refinery, and again to have monitoring committee to ensure that the progress in this refinery projects is done as per the plans laid out by both sides," said Secretary (CPV & OIA) Ausaf Sayeed in a media briefing.
The Crown Prince also congratulated India for a successful G20 Summit, while PM Modi also acknowledged Saudi Arabia's active participation in the group meetings. The two leaders specially expressed their happiness at the launch of the India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor on Saturday.
"The two sides recognised this as one of the major outcomes of the G20. It is one of the biggest such plurilateral agreements connecting several countries. It is actually connecting our like-minded partner countries in different geographic zones which is extremely important - Asia, Middle East and Europe," Sayeed said while mentioning the need for close coordination among partner countries. PM Modi also congratulated Mohammed bin Salman on becoming a member of the BRICS group.
Trading in local currencies
"The two sides identified areas such as energy cooperation, defence, security, education, technology, transportation, healthcare, tourism and culture. Both sides considered space and semiconductors as other areas of cooperation. They agreed to diversify the current status of hydrocarbon relations into a comprehensive energy partnership," said Sayeed.
The two sides also agreed to expedite the India GCC-FTA negotiations that "would act as a catalyst" for economic cooperation between India and Saudi Arabia. "They also agreed to strengthen cooperation in the FinTech field and also explore trading in the local currencies. The two leaders expressed their satisfaction at the volume of trade level both countries have reached," stated the Indian diplomat.
The Secretary said that the concept of trading in local currencies is at a "discussion stage" with proposals and concept notes being exchanged between the leaders. "The Saudi side is aware that we have worked out similar arrangements with other countries in the region. So, the discussions will be beginning or have already begun," he said.
Regarding the GCC-FTA negotiations, he said that there was a delay was that there was a change in the chief negotiators. "Now the two sides would go into those terms of reference and now that the GCC chief negotiator has also been appointed, I think the negotiations would be brought back on fast-track," he said.
A total of eight agreements have been signed in areas of energy, digitalisation and electronic manufacturing, anti-corruption and national archives. Other agreements including one on grid connectivity are currently in progress. PM Modi also mentioned critical areas of cooperation such as critical minerals, food security, startup bridge, education and filmmaking during his bilateral meeting with the Crown Prince.
India-Saudi Arabia defence cooperation
"We have an ongoing defence cooperation which is going on very well. We already had two rounds of joint naval exercises. We are now exploring the possibility of taking these joint exercises to other domains. The other important aspect is the joint collaboration in terms of defence manufacturing," Sayeed said at the briefing.
He further said that the Saudi side already has in-built local manufacturing focus in their Vision 2030 while Indian companies are interested in showing their capabilities.
Saudi Crown Prince's visit to India
The Saudi Crown Prince arrived in Delhi on a three-day visit and stayed back after the G20 Summit for the bilateral meeting. He is also likely to co-chair the first leaders' meeting of the Strategic Partnership Council with PM Modi. Speaking at the meeting, PM Modi said that the partnership between India and Saudi Arabia will give an impetus to digital connectivity. He also talked about the historic economic corridor between India, West Asia and Europe.
PM Modi further said that Saudi Arabia is one of India's most important strategic partners. As two large and fast-growing economies of the world, their mutual cooperation is important for peace and stability in the entire region, he added.
The two leaders reviewed the progress made under the two Ministerial Committees of the Strategic Partnership Council i.e.the Committee on Political, Security, Social and Cultural Cooperation and the Committee on Economy and Investments Cooperation, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement. The India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council was established in 2019 and serves as a platform between the two countries to increase ties.
It should be mentioned here that India and Saudi Arabia have historically close and friendly relations with extensive people-to-people contacts. The trade between both countries reached an all-time high of USD 52.75 billion in 2022-23. India is Saudi Arabia's second-largest trading partner whereas Saudi Arabia is India's fourth-largest trading partner. Both countries also have a strong partnership in the area of energy.