x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

India PM linked to first UAE visit in 30 years

Manmohan Singh's expected trip is likely to focus on all areas including bilateral trade relations between New Delhi and the Emirates.

India's prime minister Manmohan Singh is due to travel to the UAE in March - the first time in more than 30 years that an Indian premier pays the UAE a visit.
India's prime minister Manmohan Singh is due to travel to the UAE in March - the first time in more than 30 years that an Indian premier pays the UAE a visit.

DUBAI // Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, is expected to travel to the UAE next month for what would be the first visit by an Indian premier in more than 30 years.

Indira Gandhi was the last Indian prime minister to travel to the country, in 1981. A source at the Indian Embassy said Mr Singh should arrive at the end of March.

“There is a strong possibility of the prime minister visiting the UAE,” said the source, in response to Indian media reports. “Such a visit will focus on all areas including bilateral trade relations.

“We are in touch with local authorities to decide the agenda and programme. These details haven’t been finalised yet,” he said.

Mr Singh is expected to visit Abu Dhabi in the last week of March before travelling to South Africa for the BRICS summit.

The trip will be significant because of the 32-year gap between Mrs Gandhi’s and Mr Singh’s visits.

It will also mark growing trade relations between the two countries, which has seen an upward swing in the past few years, with trade touching US$72 billion (Dh264.4bn) last year, according to the Indian Embassy. This made the UAE India’s second largest trading partner for the year 2011-12.

“The trade relations between the two countries has been great,” said Bharat Butaney, president of the Indian Business Professional Council, which represents Indian businesses and commercial set ups in Dubai. “Of late, they have been extra warm as there have been high power delegations to both the countries.”

During a visit by India’s commerce and industry minister, Anand Sharma, last week, deals worth US$2bn were agreed.

Mr Butaney hoped Mr Singh’s visit would help finalise the much discussed Etihad and Jet Airways deal. With the Indian government opening its aviation sector to foreign direct investment by overseas airlines last year, Etihad has been looking at buying a stake in the private Indian carrier.

“The Jet-Etihad deal might get sorted during the prime minister’s visit,” he said.

Social workers said Mr Singh’s visit would acknowledge the large expatriate Indian diaspora in the Emirates and their contribution to the UAE economy. An estimated 1.75 million Indians live in the UAE, of which a large number are blue-collar workers.

“It would definitely send positive vibes in the community,” said K Kumar, head of the Indian Community Welfare Committee.

“Any visit by the head of a state, be it a president or a prime minister, has its own significance. Bilateral relationships in the areas of labour and community welfare will be enhanced,” he said.

There have been several high level visits by officials from the two countries in the past few years.

In 2011, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, visited India, while in 2010, the former Indian president, Pratibha Patil, visited the UAE.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, first travelled with a huge delegation to India in March 2007 and once more in 2011.

Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding President, travelled to India, in January 1975.

During Ms Patil’s visit, she opened the Indian Workers Resource Centre (IWRC) – a free walk-in community centre for Indian workers, especially semi-skilled and unskilled labourers.

A first of its kind, the IWRC was set up to provide direct access to welfare services. People can seek counselling, information or advice relating to legal issues such as contracts and financial matters.

pkannan@thenational.ae