Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to undertake a long-overdue visit to Saudi Arabia next month or early March during which the two countries will sign nine pacts, including an extradition treaty and an Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners.
The focus of the visit will be to expand the strategic partnership that was reached between the two countries during the trip of Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz to India in January 2006 when he was the Chief Guest for Republic Day.
"A new era of relationship was started when the king visited India in 2006...It opened a new important chapter in the relations. We are going to witness again a new chapter being opened during the long-awaited visit of the prime minister," Saudi Ambassador Faisal H Trad told a select group of mediapersons.
He said the exact dates for the visit were being finalised but indicated that it could take place either late next month or early March as the two countries had agreed to have the trip in the first quarter of this year.
The return visit to the Saudi King's India trip has been in the pipeline for long but has failed to fructify. There was a proposal for the visit in November 2008 and preparations were being made but it failed to take place due to scheduling problems.
Trad said nine pacts will be signed during the visit. These include an Extradition Treaty and an Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners.
Around 700 Indians are serving sentence in Saudi Arabia while another 700 are under trial, he said, adding no Saudi national is imprisoned in India.
The Saudi ambassador noted that the Indians accounted for a very less percentage of those held for crimes in his country and the majority of offences against them were lack of proper documents or carrying drugs.
The two countries will also sign an agreement to set up a Joint Investment Fund with a corpus of 750 million dollars, for which Saudi Arabia will contribute 500 million dollars and India the rest.
The decision to set up the fund was taken during the visit of the then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Riyadh in April 2008.
The fund will be utilised for infrastructure development. Two pacts will be signed in the field of science and technology and IT and two more will be inked in the education sector providing for establishment of linkages between universities and educational institutes.
Asked whether any pact on curbing money laundering would be signed, Trad said this area was covered by international treaties of which India and Saudi Arabia were a part.
To a question on visas, the Saudi envoy said his government had started implementing strictly the rules under which police certificates would be required for incoming travellers.
The Saudi embassy in Delhi and consulate in Mumbai are also renewing conditions for travel agents for registration as it was found that a number of them did not even have an office, he said.
A large number of Indians travel to Saudi every year, he said, adding the embassy and the consulate issued six lakh visas last year besides 1.6 lakh for Haj pilgrims.
Besides the travelers, Saudi hosts around 1.5 million Indians as workers. Their remittances are to the tune of $ 5 billion. The Saudi envoy said the relations had got a significant momentum after the King's visit here in 2006 when the two countries signed a joint declaration, which is rare for Saudi Arabia as it usually inks only agreements.
Energy sector has witnessed the massive rise, with Saudi exports jumping from $ 500 million in 2006 to $ 23 billion in 2008. "Prior to 2006, we hardly had any energy export to India. But by 2008, we became number one source of crude oil for India," Trad said.
Earlier, United Arab Emirates was the largest exporter of crude to India. He said discussions are underway for joint investments by Indian and Saudi Arabian companies in energy sector.
There is also a proposal for setting up an office Saudi petroleum giant Aramco in India to push cooperation in energy sector.
The ambassador invited Indian investments as he noted that Saudi Arabia was working on reducing dependence on hydrocarbon sector, which accounts for 60-65 per cent of revenues, by developing other resources.
Saudi Arabia has unveiled a National Industrial Strategy 2020 under which six Economic Cities would be developed across the country.
Work has already started on four of them. In this regard, he said Indian investors have opportunities. This issue will be discussed during the meeting between Indian chambers of commerce and their counterparts from Saudi Arabia as part of India-Arab League business conference to be held in New Delhi on February 8-9.