Jaishankar visits Qatar: India eyes enhanced trade, energy ties

Riding high on their close partnership during the Covid-19 pandemic, India and Qatar look to enhance trade and energy cooperation considerably in the New Year. Qatar is not only an important economic partner for India but also home to around 700,000 Indian expatriates. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s visit to the oil-rich country from December 27-28 is expected to firm up a cooperation roadmap in the trade and energy sectors.During the visit, he is scheduled to meet the Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani and other important dignitaries. This is Jaishankar’s first visit to Qatar since becoming foreign minister. Besides bilateral matters, he will also hold talks with his counterpart on regional and international issues of mutual interest, the External Affairs Ministry said in a release.

On December 27, Mr Jaishankar began his trip with an India-Qatar Business Roundtable.

While appreciating their commitment to strengthen business partnership, he briefed them about the new opportunities arising from India’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ initiative. He also thanked the chairpersons of QCCI (the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry) and QBA (the Qatari Businessmen Association), Sheikh Khalifa and Sheikh Faisal, respectively for their efforts to strengthen trade ties. In a tweet, he later said “Understanding the historical connections between India and Qatar. Gujarat (literally) was an important door for commerce and contacts.”On the day of his visit, he would virtually interact with the Indian diaspora.

India and Qatar have maintained close high-level contacts during the Covid-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani have spoken thrice on phone in the past few months to discuss the progress of the anti-Covid measures. Besides, the Indian foreign minister and his Cabinet colleagues have also spoken with their Qatari counterparts during the period. “The Gulf countries have also been generous in helping India in ensuring oil and gas supplies during the pandemic,” the MEA said in the release.

India and Qatar enjoy strong economic, cultural, and people-to-people ties, with bilateral trade recording US$ 10.95 billion in 2019-20. Both sides remain committed to intensifying bilateral cooperation in various fields, including energy and investments. India and Qatar have also worked together to face the Covid-19 pandemic and coordinated smooth operation of flights under an Air Bubble arrangement.

The visit assumes significance in the backdrop of India’s enhanced engagement with countries of West Asia, which it considers as an extended neighborhood, and comes after Mr Jaishankar’s recent tour to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Additionally, the minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan traveled to Oman while Indian Army chief General MM Naravane visited the UAE and Saudi Arabia recently, the first such trip by the army chief, which demonstrated the importance that India accords to its friends in the Middle-East.

On December 8, both sides decided to create a special task force to facilitate investments by the Qatar Investment Authority in India, especially in the energy sector. The Qatari agency has invested $600 million in two Indian companies so far. However, India’s burgeoning supply of workers to Qatar, a key source of remittance, has also been a high-priority area in their relations.“The foreign minister will convey India’s special gratitude to Qatar for taking care of Indian expatriates during the pandemic,” the external affairs ministry said.

Ahead of the 2022 football World Cup, Qatar has hiked the minimum wage by 25 percent, which is going to benefit hundreds and thousands of Indian workers in the country. It has also dismantled an old system that required workers to seek the consent of employers before switching jobs. This would immensely benefit the Indian expatriates. A meeting of the joint India-Qatar committee on labor had recently agreed to institutionalize steps to protect workers’ rights, including facilitating the movement of people between the two countries in a safe manner, which will give further impetus to their ties in this area. New Delhi also called on the member GCC countries to facilitate the return of workers who had come home during the pandemic.

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