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PM to embark on Gulf trip in November

October 17, 2008 20:24 IST

India's engagement with the Arab world is expected to receive a boost with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set to visit Saudi Arabia and Qatar early next month, his first trip to the Gulf during his over four year in office.

Dr Singh will undertake a six-day two-nation tour which is expected to begin on November eight, official sources said in New Delhi on Friday.

The visit to Saudi Arabia is immensely significant as it will mark the first Prime Ministerial trip to the crucial gulf country in 28 years.

Dr Singh's trip to Riyadh will come nearly three years after Saudi King Abdullah's visit to New Delhi as Chief Guest for the 2006 Republic Day.

Energy, trade and investment will dominate the agenda of Singh's visit which has been long overdue, the sources said.

The two sides are likely to review the progress made on implementation of the Delhi Declaration issued in January 2006 and discuss ways to take it forward.

At present, India is the fifth largest trading partner of Saudi Arabia with non-oil bilateral trade being 3.67 billion dollars. India imported oil from Saudi Arabia worth about 12 billion dollars during the last financial year.

Cooperation in the field of manpower is an important dimension in the Indo-Saudi relationship, with about 15 lakh Indians working in that country and sending remittances to the tune of around three billion dollars annually.

In the Declaration, the two countries had agreed to develop a strategic energy partnership based on complementarity and interdependence, which would include reliable, stable and increased volume of crude supplies to India.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee undertook a two-day visit to Riyadh from April 19 this year during which Saudi Arabia said Indian companies were welcome to explore opportunities in its energy sector through join ventures, responding to New Delhi's keen interest to enter the hydrocrabon-rich gulf country in a bigger way.

The two countries had also agreed on setting up of a joint investment fund.

India has been keen to convert seller-buyer relationship to a more participatory one where Indian companies explore oil and gas resources in this country.

India imports 26 million tonnes of hydrocarbon from Saudi Arabia every year accounting for one-fourth of imports of energy.

Visit to Qatar will also be crucial considering that the country is also an important source of energy for India. Under an agreement, India receives 7.5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas from Qatar annually.

The visit to these key Arab countries ahead of general elections is also significant politically for the government as it will indicate its emphasis on relationship with the Gulf world, negating an impression that it was too pro-West.

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