Saudi crown prince’s India visit to boost bilateral investment

Saudi and Indian cabinet ministers stand as Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman inspects an honor guard during his ceremonial reception at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan presidential palace in New Delhi, India, on February 20, 2019. (REUTERS/Adnan Abidi)
Updated 21 February 2019

Saudi crown prince’s India visit to boost bilateral investment

  • Vision 2030 offers huge opportunities to Indian businessmen in non-oil sector
  • India’s bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia was worth $27.48 billion in the financial year 2017-18

Many Indian businesses that already operate in the Kingdom are interested in expanding as part of Vision 2030. Retail company Lulu Group International, for example, plans to open 12 new hypermarkets and five malls in Saudi Arabia by next year. 

It already employs more than 2,700 Saudi nationals and plans to increase this number to about 5,000 by 2020.

“Saudi Arabia is a very important market and we will invest in the booming retail sector as we are upbeat about the vast opportunities in the Kingdom through its Vision 2030 initiative,” said Yusuff Ali M. A., the chairman of Lulu Group.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s first visit to India will propel trade and bilateral business relations between the two countries to new heights, experts predict.

Saudi Arabia has long been an important trade partner for India, said Mir Gazanfar Ali Zaki, the general secretary of the Saudi Indian Business Network, and the crown prince’s trip could expand and enhance ties in diverse fields.

According to Saudi Arabia’s General Investment Authority, more than 420 Indian companies operate in the Kingdom through joint ventures or with 100 percent ownership. They have capital of more than $1.5 billion and cover sectors including management and consultancy services, construction projects, telecommunications, information technology and pharmaceuticals.

Saudi Vision 2030, the crown prince’s brainchild, aims to transform the country by diversifying its economy through a series of reforms in non-oil sectors. India hopes to play a significant role in this expansion. The key sectors that India can target to expand and boost trade ties with the Kingdom include software development, solar energy, jewelry, fashion, tourism, education and food, said Zaki.

The cultural reforms initiated recently by the crown prince also clear the way for a wide range of business opportunities in the entertainment sector that India is well placed to cash in on. Bollywood films and music rank high on the list of popular entertainment among many Saudis, and with the recent reopening of cinemas in the Kingdom, and ambitious plans to build hundreds of theaters across the country, there is a huge opportunity for an Indian film to grab a large share of the market.

India’s bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia was worth $27.48 billion in the financial year 2017-18, according to the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, making the Kingdom the country’s fourth-largest trading partner. It is the main supplier of energy, providing more than 18 percent of India’s oil. However, bilateral trade has dropped by almost a half from a high of about $48 billion five years ago because of the fall in global demand for oil. This might soon change, analysts say, as more investors from India are tempted by the Vision 2030 opportunities.

This view is shared by a Middle East Institute analysis that said: “As reforms related to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 are implemented, Indian investors are likely to be attracted to several sectors, including infrastructure, hydrocarbons, desalination, renewable energy, education, research and development, health and pharmaceuticals.”

“We have trained about 200 Saudi nationals to take our business forward,” P. A. Ibrahim, the chairman of Indian company Malabar Gold and Diamonds said. “It is really a huge success that gives us the confidence to open more branches in the Kingdom. Vision 2030 and the Neom project have opened up good opportunities for us to invest more. We are planning four more jewelry outlets in the Kingdom soon,” he said.

A growing area of trade cooperation between the two countries is the field of petrochemical projects. Saudi oil company Aramco, in partnership with the UAE’s Adnoc, recently announced a joint venture for a stake in the $44 billion Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals project. Cooperation in the sector is expected to grow and it is thought new agreements might be signed during the crown prince’s visit.

An enduring and tangible aspect of the bilateral relations is the presence of a strong, vibrant community of 2.7 million Indians in Saudi Arabia, the largest single group of expatriates in the country. In addition, the Kingdom welcomes more than 175,000 Indian Hajj pilgrims every year.

“We can transform the trade links and cooperation to people-to-people coexistence because of this,” said Zaki. “By promoting foreign direct investment at Saudi trade shows and Indian trade shows, businesses from both countries can benefit. India and Saudi Arabia can organize Indo-Saudi trade exhibitions in both countries so that it can be a common platform for bilateral trade. Both countries should organize as many business-to-business meetings as possible.”

He highlighted the recent efforts by the Saudi Indian Business Network to achieve this through exhibitions such as the Kerala Gems and Jewelry show, the Kolkata Gems and Jewelry Show, Indus Food 2019 in Greater Noida, the International Indian Jewelry Show Signature in Mumbai, the Food Festival of India in Jeddah, the Film Festival of India in Jeddah, Global Exhibition on Services in Mumbai, Business Opportunities in India in Jeddah, and Tea Around the World in Jeddah.

The crown prince’s visit has great political significance, too. While energy and economic cooperation will remain the mainstay of bilateral ties, the two nations are trying to strengthen their cooperation in defense and security. The Ministry of External Affairs has talked of a growing desire in Riyadh for stronger strategic relations and improved intelligence sharing.


Japan lower house passes US trade deal but auto tariffs still in limbo

Updated 19 November 2019

Japan lower house passes US trade deal but auto tariffs still in limbo

  • There is uncertainty over how much progress Japan can make in negotiating the elimination of US tariffs on its cars and car parts
  • Japan has estimated the initial deal will boost its economy by about 0.8 percent over the next 10-20 years

TOKYO: Japan’s lower house of parliament approved on Tuesday a limited trade deal Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed with the United States, clearing the way for tariff cuts next year on items including US farm goods and Japanese machine tools.
But there is uncertainty over how much progress Japan can make in negotiating the elimination of US tariffs on its cars and car parts, casting doubt on Abe’s assurances the deal he signed with US President Donald Trump was “win-win.”
Japan and the United States last month formally signed the limited trade deal to cut tariffs on US farm goods, Japanese machine tools and other products while staving off the threat of higher US car duties.
The government’s proposal to ratify the trade deal will next be brought to the upper house for a vote but its passage in the powerful lower house increases the chances it will come into force in January.
The deal will give Trump a success he can trumpet to voters but Abe has said it will bring as much benefit to Japan as to the United States.
Japan has estimated the initial deal will boost its economy by about 0.8 percent over the next 10-20 years, when the benefits fully kick in. It also estimated ¥212.8 billion of overall tariffs on Japan’s exports to the United States will be reduced.
But the figures were based on the assumption the United States would eliminate its tariffs on Japanese autos and auto parts — a major sticking point.
Without those tariff cuts, the reduction in overall US tariffs on Japanese goods would be a little over 10 percent of the government’s projection, according to an estimate by Japan’s Asahi newspaper and Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting.
After the deal is ratified, Japan and the United States have four months to consult on further talks, and Trump has said he wants more trade talks with Japan after the initial deal.
But Japanese government sources familiar with the talks say the momentum to negotiate a deeper deal appears to have waned for now with Washington preoccupied with talks with Beijing.
“It’s unclear whether Washington seriously wants to continue trade talks,” one of the sources said.
“The question is how much time the United States can allocate for talks with Japan, even if we start negotiations. There’s limited time to conclude talks before the presidential elections.”
Japan and the United States already appear to have different interpretations of what was agreed on car tariffs.
Japan has said it has received US assurance that it would scrap tariffs on Japanese cars and car parts, and that the only remaining issue was the timing.
But Washington has not confirmed that.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said cars were not included in the agreement, and that it was only Japan’s ambition to discuss car tariffs in the future.
A US document only said customs duties on autos and auto parts “will be subject to further negotiations with respect to the elimination of customs duties.”
“The deal was left vague on the issue of tariff cuts on Japanese auto and auto parts. Otherwise, we couldn’t have reached the agreement,” another source said.
There is also uncertainty on whether Trump will drop threats to impose steep tariffs on Japanese car imports under “Section 232” that gives him authority to do so on national security grounds.
Abe said he had got an assurance from Trump that he would not do that, though analysts say the president could always change his mind, or at least keep Japan guessing.
Opposition parties have attacked Abe for a deal they say is unfair. Critics say Trump could drag his feet on further negotiations unless he is sure he can win more concessions.
“There’s a chance Trump will put pressure on Japan on trade to appeal to his voters,” said Junichi Sugawara, senior research officer at Mizuho Research Institute. “There’s a possibility he could renew his threat over auto tariffs.”