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India’s Growing Intrest in the Middle East: A Look at India-UAE Relations

Indian merchants had established a significant presence in the Persian Gulf long before the onset of the oil boom. They were deeply involved in various economic activities, such as investing in pearl fishery ventures, procuring pearls and dates, and providing essential commodities to the local populace. The decline of the Iranian port of Lingah in 1902 due to exorbitant tax hikes led to the ascendance of Dubai as a vibrant free port, guided by progressive leadership. Despite facing challenging living conditions, Indian businessmen seized opportunities in this burgeoning environment.

India served as the primary hub for sourcing textiles, spices, household items, and furniture. Even for intricate medical treatments, the missionary hospital in Miraj, located in southern Maharashtra, was favored by not only locals but also ruling sheiks from the region. The expertise of boatbuilders from the Malabar coast was highly sought after for crafting seaworthy vessels. Recollections from a young Emirati underscored the transformative impact of Indian advancements; his grandfather’s generation journeyed to Bombay to witness modern amenities like electricity and well-constructed roads. It was an Indian entrepreneur who pioneered the introduction of electricity to Dubai, employing kerosene-driven generator sets to illuminate the city’s streets and homes.

India’s growing relations with the UAE marks a significant change in the international relations of the present government. With Oil trades and the growth of Indian Diaspora in the region, a change can be seen.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inaugural trip to the UAE on August 16-17, 2015 marked the beginning of a significant shift in their bilateral relationship. The gracious reception extended to him upon his arrival at the airport by the then Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, now President of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, established a positive atmosphere for what evolved into an immensely fruitful visit.

The Joint Statement issued on August 17, 2015, delineated 31 mutually agreed-upon points, with the foremost being the decision to elevate the India-UAE relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership. Among the other key points outlined were substantial measures aimed at combating terrorism, the establishment of a strategic security dialogue mechanism, the formation of a USD 75 billion Infrastructure Investment Fund, a targeted increase in trade volume by 60% within five years, the UAE’s involvement in bolstering India’s strategic petroleum reserves, collaborative efforts in space exploration, nuclear energy initiatives, educational partnerships, and more. This document merits thorough examination as it laid the foundation for the multitude of projects and initiatives that subsequently materialized between the two nations.

The Joint Statement released on July 15, 2023, during the Prime Minister’s fifth visit to the UAE, signifies advancements in various domains outlined in the 2015 accord. Notably, a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was previously ratified in February 2022, significantly enhancing bilateral trade relations. Furthermore, the UAE has emerged as the fourth-largest investor in India. Additionally, an agreement was formalized to promote the utilization of local currencies for cross-border transactions, alongside the initiation of efforts to interconnect payment and messaging systems. Moreover, a notable stride in educational cooperation was taken with the establishment of an Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi campus in Abu Dhabi, initially focusing on offering a master’s program in Energy Transition and Sustainability.

India’s G20 presidency and the UAE’s COP28 presidency provided additional opportunities for working together on global issues. The excellent personal rapport between the leadership of the two countries and the trust it has engendered over the past ten years brought India and the UAE into an exemplary bond of mutually beneficial partnership. The Indian diaspora has meanwhile increased to over 3.5 million, cementing ties further.

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