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IIT campus likely in Kingdom; ‘Air Bubble Arrangements’ being discussed

September 12, 2020

RIYADH — Indian Ambassador Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, while stressing that the impact of COVID-19 on the global economy has been tremendous, said both the G20 nations — India and Saudi Arabia — have worked toward mitigating the economic fallout while also setting up programs to alleviate the business conditions during the pandemic.

He also emphasized that India and Saudi Arabia have been working, individually and also together, in identifying the areas of synergy in trying to give the existing economic ties between the two nations a fillip.

The Indian envoy made these comments during a webinar that discussed the Impact of COVID-19 on Indo-Saudi bilateral economic relations. He provided a detailed PowerPoint presentation in which he identified potential areas of Indian investment — pharmaceutical, information technology, tourism, education and chemical industries.

The webinar on the topic of ‘Impact of COVI0-19 on the Bilateral Economic Relations of India and Saudi Arabia’ was organized by the Embassy of India.

The business interaction was held virtually as a precautionary measure against the COVID pandemic. The event was attended by around 150 attendees, including representatives from the Saudi Arabian commercial authorities — SAGIA, SFDA. SALIC, SABIC and chambers of commerce & business organizations from both the nations.

“India and Saudi Arabia carry very strong cultural as well as economic relationship and are closely inter-dependent making it a very strong bonding. The recent COVID has badly affected every economy in the world, and hence the trade between these two economies,” Dr. Sayeed said during his introductory speech.

He also talked about the measures taken by the two countries to support their Industries, business houses and their bilateral economic relations against the backdrop of COVID-19.

While the webinar threw up ideas and solutions from various speakers, it was the Indian Ambassador Dr. Sayeed, who revealed two interesting proposals that the two nations are working on during the interactive session, the final session of the webinar.

With the education sector witnessing changes, the Ambassador, said that the Kingdom has expressed interest in setting up an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus in Saudi Arabia, “and we are in talks with the pertinent authorities to allow an IIT campus which could be a win-win situation for both countries, and the likelihood is that IIT Delhi could set up its campus in Saudi Arabia.”

While answering a question about restarting of international flights between India and Saudi Arabia and the fate of the people stuck in India due to the pandemic, he said: “The country (Saudi Arabia) has been regularly reviewing the status of restarting international flights, and will announce the dates when they are ready. But on our part, we, in the meantime, are in talks with the Saudi authorities in trying to set up “Air Bubble arrangements” and hopefully we’ll succeed.

“We have already forged the “bubble flights” arrangements with Kuwait and UAE and are in talks with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The talks with Saudi Arabia could prove advantages on many folds... The medical, para-medical staff and technical personnel stuck in India could return, in addition to facilitating the return of those with visas and families holding valid visas... Also it could allow for the travel of business visa holders but most importantly it would enable the setting of physical meetings between officials between the G20 nations in a run up to the main event during October and November,” the envoy said.

Though the PowerPoint presentation, Dr. Sayeed showed that Saudi Arabia is fourth largest trading partner, 39th largest investor with FDI close to $318m in past two decades. During 2019, $100 billion MoUs were signed, and recently the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) invested $1.5 in telecom company in India with additional investment interests in multiple startups showcasing importance of the upcoming innovative solutions from India.

“India enjoys edge in technology and better economics in the domain of pharmaceutical, information technology, tourism, education and chemical industries where lot of business interest are seen. India continues to remain third largest importer during last quarter despite global slowdown.

“Similarly, Saudi Arabia has shown increasing imports from India in certain sectors viz cereals, organic chemicals, automobile accessories, mineral fuels. The creation of Strategic Partnership Council (SPC) and joint working groups beneath in IT, energy, industrial infrastructure, agriculture and food security is expected to reveal growing relationship with India,” Dr. Sayeed added.

The elaborate presentation shared by the Ambassador of India revealed various data and current trend and important areas of opportunities.

The virtual interactions also Included inputs from Rajiv Shukla, CEO, HSBC bank, Saudi Arabia, who shared his views on banking & investment flows. He stated that the global trend shows higher and cheaper debts with increasing default rate leading to decreasing value of attached collaterals hence risk adverse situation by the sector. At the same time government stimulus are creating liquidity hence banks are filled with liquidity but with risk alert approach.

Hani Fetyanl, CEO, HHF Developments, shared his experience following his India visit and said there’s a great potential for joint manufacturing in India and Saudi Arabia while serving Middle East from Saudi Arabia.

CA Vijay Soni, CFO, Saudi Arabian Glass Co., shared his experience and highlighted issues leading to trade between two countries, which are being raised to concerned authorities for action and smooth interaction. The examples include trade barrier issues with ceramic and tiles industry, supply chain disturbance issues with perishable fruits and leather industry.

“There is growing demand for joint ventures in domain of aviation, infrastructure building and logistics. With 67% of GDP representing foreign trade, Saudi Arabia is a true international supply chain economy showing its importance and value addition to international trade and investment. The supply chain disturbance is one of major reason of reducing trade apart from reduced demand where business community can fill the gap by using efficient and faster solutions,” he said.

The program included presentations by Chandrakant Salunkhe, founder & president of SME Chamber of lndia, Federation of lndian SME Association, who elaborated on how the SMEs have suffered during recent times and the immense potential of collaboration between India and Saudi Arabia In this sector.

Furthermore, Achal Walia, senior manager, head of Saudi Arabia engagements, Ms. Vasundra Singh from Invest India’s Middle East Department gave a presentation regarding the prospects of investment in India in the current times.

The event concluded with an interactive session with the attendees thanking the Ambassador for connecting with the stakeholders during the COVID times. Ms. Ritu Yadav, Second Secretary (Commerce) and Ms. Hamna Mariyam, Consul Commerce (CGI, Jeddah) moderated the event.

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