Political stability in the Persian Gulf region is a primary objective of India's foreign policy as it would help boost trade ties too, R M Abhyankar, Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, said in Hyderabad on Wednesday.
Addressing a special session on 'India and the Arab World,' at the Tenth Partnership Summit organised by the CII, Abhyankar pointed out that overall trade between India and the Gulf was increasing.
The total trade rose from $8 billion in 2001-02 to $10 billion in 2002-03. There was immense potential for economic cooperation between India and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Stability in the region was a key factor and there was imperative need to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, he pointed out.
India was vigorously cooperating with Gulf states for oil exploration. India signed an accord for an exploration block in Syria today, he said and disclosed that India was on the verge of signing for another exploration block in Libya in the near future.
India could be the biggest market for the Gulf states since the country was moving ahead in ensuring for itself energy security in the years to come, thereby providing the Gulf region with an avenue for investment.
Besides the oil sector, India and the Gulf could cooperate on knowledge-based products. This area was identified by President A P J Abdul Kalam during his recent visit to the United Arab Emirates.
India, being the hub of knowledge-based industries, offered good potential for the Gulf countries to tap by sending in students for higher education.
This would not only ensure human development but also ensure the bonding of the historical ties between India and the Gulf, he said.
He also identified health as another key sector for potential cooperation between India and the Gulf. India, with its expertise and comparatively low cost of treatment, was an alternative to the West. Tourism between the regions was another area for cooperation.
Salem Nasser bin Ismaily, executive president, OCIPED, Oman, said that GCC was India's second largest trading partner after the US. With the Indian economy reaching an all-time high growth rate, trade between GCC and India was expected to grow. To accelerate economic growth, there was a need for easy movement of people, goods and services, he added.
Tayeb A Kamali from Abu Dhabi Petroleum University said there was tremendous scope for cooperation between India and the UAE in the field of education.
The UAE, he said, was keen to leverage India's prowess in IT, as education knew no boundaries. He hoped that education would go global, defying political, geographical and religious boundaries.
M T Asfour, managing director, Globatel Limited, Jordan, said that trade between India and the Arab world was increasing but it was yet to realise full potential. Indian companies were yet to tap the market in the Arab world.
However, he cautioned that Indian companies would face tough competition from Chinese products as they were all-pervasive in the Gulf.
M A Pathan, resident director, Tata Services, and chairman, CII Gulf Council, said that after 9/11, the countries in the Gulf have started looking towards India as an alternative to the Western countries.
Close cooperation on political and trade issues could take forward India and the Gulf on the road to peace and prosperity, he said.