It was a morning of business for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Riyadh, pitching the India Story and showcasing new opportunities unleashed by the world’s fastest growing economy.
Changing Narrative of India
The atmosphere was business-like, but buzzing with Indo-optimism, with 30 top Saudi CEOs and Indian business leaders in attendance at the plush Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce in the heart of Riyadh. The business titans, who lined up to welcome Modi and posed for group photographs, collectively accounted for a hefty portion of Saudi GDP. In his interaction with the elite business community, the prime minister’s overarching focus was on changing the narrative of India in Saudi Arabia, which is not rated highly by the Saudi business community in terms of the ease of doing business.
Ease of doing business: Saudi CEOs quiz PM
Speaking at an interactive round table discussion, Saudi businessmen, dressed in flowing white thawb, posed tough questions to the Indian leader about the play of economic reforms in India and tried to gauge what the reform-minded Indian leader planned to deliver. They struck an upbeat note about investing in India, but sought clarifications on the taxation structure, the status of GST, which is still bogged down in partisan politics, land reforms and other structural reforms.
Focus sectors for investment
Allaying their concerns, Mr Modi underlined his commitment to enhance the ease of doing business and raised the bar by pitching for a more diversified economic relationship, focused on joint investments and exploring new areas like renewables. “Let us move beyond merely the export-import relationship. Joint investment and tech transfers are areas that we should explore,” he said. “From petroleum to renewable energy, infrastructure, defence and agriculture, there is a tremendous opportunity for expanding our cooperation,” he added.
The prime minister focused on the health sector as a potential sunshine area of India-Saudi cooperation. “India’s health sector which is globally extremely cost competitive can emerge as a bright spot in health tourism. In a sector driven by tech changes, India’s low cost tech devices have gained global renown,” Mr Modi stressed. “Indian nurses, present in large numbers in the Gulf, are a testament to our well trained man power,” he said.
With Saudi Arabia planning to set up $2 trillion fund, Mr Modi tried to win sceptics over by underscoring a spate of second generation economic reforms undertaken by his government. “My government is also working towards banking sector reform and making sure all our states are on board. My government will continue to work towards establishment of a predictable long term taxation regime.” He assured them that his government will manage to get the GST off the ground.
The Future is Now
In a cheering assurance for India, Saudi Trade Minister Khalid al-Falih assured Mr Modi that Saudi Aramco is looking to India as its No. 1 target for investment. With the plan to bring Aramco in the fold of the proposed $2 trillion public fund, it could open new vistas for accelerating the flow of Saudi investment into India. Currently, Saudi investments into India at around $600 million are hardly anything much to write home.
Taking a futuristic view of the evolving relationship, Mr Modi flaunted India’s three winning cards – democracy, demographics and demand – and conjured up a vibrant picture of a mutually enriching economic partnership. “India and Saudi Arabia are old friends, but we are ready to take bold new steps into a golden future,” he said, to ringing applause from the Saudi business community.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, an e-magazine-journal focused on international affairs, and CEO of TGII Media Private Limited. He is in Riyadh to report and analyse India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia)
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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