New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman agreed to elevate the hydrocarbon relationship between the two nations into a comprehensive strategic energy partnership in New Delhi on Monday.
Saudi Arabia currently ranks as India's third-largest supplier, and Modi hailed Saudi Arabia as "one of the most important strategic partners for India." Both leaders also commended the recent announcement of the economic corridor linking India and the Middle East, a significant outcome of the G20 Summit. Modi described it as "historic," while the Saudi Crown Prince stressed on the need for diligent collaboration on this initiative.
During their meeting, the two leaders signed the minutes of the first meeting of the Strategic Partnership Council between the two nations, which had been established earlier. They inked eight agreements across various sectors, including energy, digitalisation, investment, and grid connectivity. Leveraging India's expertise in startups, Modi proposed a "Startup Bridge" between the two nations and the formation of a Joint Working Group on education and skill development.
Additionally, they committed to strengthening defence and security ties, as well as cooperation in space, semiconductors, technology, transportation, tourism, and culture. The Saudi side expressed interest in collaborating with India on defence manufacturing.
Further, both leaders agreed to expedite the implementation of the ambitious west coast refinery project in Raigarh, Maharashtra, which involves investments from Saudi oil giant Aramco, UAE's Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, and Indian public sector oil firms. They also decided to establish a joint task force to identify and channelise the $100 billion of promised Saudi investment, with half allocated to the refinery project. This project, the world's largest greenfield refinery to be implemented in a single phase, will have a joint venture trilateral structure with $50 billion earmarked for its development.
The remaining half of the investment has been designated for projects such as gas grids and optical fibers. During a special Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) briefing on the Crown Prince's visit, MEA's Secretary (CPV and OIA), Ausaf Sayeed, disclosed that both sides agreed to expedite Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations between India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). They also discussed the matter of trade conducted in local currencies.
In his remarks, Modi expressed gratitude to Saudi Arabia for its care of the numerous Indians living and working there. He hinted that in the future, Saudi Arabia might consider increasing the number of Haj pilgrims, including Indians, based on the facilities available. However, there were no specific discussions regarding an increase in the quota for Indian pilgrims from the current 1.75 lakh. The Saudi Crown Prince noted that Indians in Saudi Arabia constitute approximately seven per cent of the country's population, and the Saudi government looks after them as it does its own citizens. He also highlighted that both nations were the world's two fastest-growing economies last year and stressed that they have never had any conflicts or disagreements.