x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Singh's visit carries a long friendship

News that Manmohan Singh will visit the UAE is an occasion to think about the strong and long-standing ties between this country and India.

Dhows have plied the waters of the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean for millennia, establishing vital trade links long before "globalisation" became a buzzword. The symbiotic development of societies on the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian peninsula are clearly evident today - just sit down for a plate of biryani at a local Arab restaurant and chew on the idea of centuries of cultural exchange.

In the modern era, those ties have been reinforced by the reciprocal visits of heads of states. Sheikh Zayed, the father of the UAE, paid official visits to India twice, in 1975 and 1992; Indira Gandhi, the prime minister in New Delhi at the time, returned the compliment in 1981. It is in that spirit of reciprocity that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit, planned for the end of next month, should be understood.

There is another obvious benchmark of the bilateral relationship: India remains the UAE's second largest trading partner, with more than $72 billion (Dh264.4 billion) worth of goods and services exchanged last year. Mr Singh's visit should help to cement new partnerships in sectors ranging from agriculture to aviation.

For most residents of the UAE, the mutual interdependence is obvious on a daily basis. An estimated 1.75 million Indians live and work in the Emirates, making up the largest community in the country's expatriate population. It is an arrangement of mutual interest, as expatriates make vital contributions to the economy, while their wages support families here and in their home country.

A large proportion of those are labourers, who are working across the nation engaged in construction sites and similar manual labour. But it would be a mistake to characterise Indians' contribution solely in that capacity. Investment from the subcontinent has developed some of the Emirates' major commercial outlets, including LuLu Hypermarkets and Jumbo Electronics to name just two, while Indian professionals staff local companies from the highest levels on down.

Mr Singh's visit will naturally focus on trade and shared interests at the national level. But let us not forget the exchange of culture and of understanding athat was pioneered by those dhows so many years ago. We look forward to welcoming Mr Singh as well as his compatriots.