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Banking tightens UAE-India ties

Ties between the UAE and India have come a long way since the exchange of pearls for cotton.

For JR Gangaramani and many other wealthy Indians, the UAE is an extended suburb of Mumbai.

Mr Gangaramani first arrived on a visit visa nearly 40 years ago after his parents told him they could not afford for him to study a master's in civil engineering in the United States.

Here, he found a job helping to build the World Trade Centre in Dubai, the first tall building to spring up from the emirate's dusty terrain.

Six years later, he had launched his own construction firm in Al Ain, Al Fara'a Group, which now has operations spanning from Riyadh to his home city, Mumbai. He now owns homes in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Mumbai.

"For me, the UAE is the land of opportunities," says Mr Gangaramani, a father of three. "I have never met a businessman in the UAE who lost business if they had ethics and vision." Mr Gangaramani's story typifies the close links between the UAE and India built on the days when the two countries exchanged pearls and cotton and the Indian rupee was accepted as legal tender by Emirati traders.

Today, the UAE is home to more than 1 million Indians, and oil, gold and IT form part of the expanding flow of goods and services between the two countries. The UAE accounts for nearly half of India's US$144 billion (Dh528.94bn) trade with the Arab world.

And businesses are looking to bolster these ties even further.

National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) has applied for a licence to the Reserve Bank of India to open a branch in Mumbai, its first in India.

"India is the biggest trading partner to the UAE so it will make perfect sense for us to be there," said Prakesh Sheth, the head of the international credit and marketing unit at NBAD, at the Arab India Partnership Conference in Abu Dhabi yesterday. "It will be the gateway for the Arab world who want to do investment and business in India and also for Indian companies wanting to set up in the Arab world."

Similarly, Bank of Baroda is seeking to further bolster its presence here as the Indian bank with the biggest footprint in the UAE.

It already has six branches and eight electronic customer centres, which allow for cash payments.

"The UAE is very important for us," said KV Rama Moorthy, the chief executive of GCC operations at Bank of Baroda. "We want to open three more electronic customer centres in Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai and an offshore wholesale banking branch in the Dubai International Financial Centre."

Both countries are increasingly keen to broaden commercial links with a particular focus on investment.

The Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi is talking to a number of firms from India about opening in the free zone, said a spokesman for the zone.

Officials hope more Indians will follow Mr Gangaramani's lead and make the Emirates a home from home.

"Despite great opportunities, I see few Indian firms in the UAE," said Mr Gangaramani.



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