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Will Anti-Prophet Remarks Hit India's Gulf Trade?

June 08, 2022 12:01 IST

Some of these nations are India's biggest export market.
India is also dependent on these countries to meet its energy needs.

IMAGE: Iran's Foreign Minister Dr Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, right, is welcomed by J P Singh, joint secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran), left, at the ministry of external affairs, as he arrives in New Delhi, June 8, 2022. Photograph: ANI/Twitter

At a time when trade with countries in the Gulf is picking up after a brief let-up, controversial remarks made by now-suspended Bharatiya Janata Party leaders on Prophet Mohammed have stirred a debate on whether they could possibly affect India's ongoing trade negotiations with nations in West Asia.

Saudi Arabia, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Iran, Yemen, Oman, among other Islamic nations, have censured the alleged Islamophobic remarks made by then BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal last week during television debates.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation -- the collective voice of the Muslim world -- has condemned the remarks.

Facing a diplomatic backlash, the BJP has not only distanced itself from comments made by Sharma, calling her a 'fringe element', and Jindal, but also suspended Sharma and expelled Jindal on Sunday.

India shares close ties with most countries in West Asia, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Some of these nations are India's biggest export market.

GCC is a regional, inter-governmental political economic union comprising six countries -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. Region wise, it is the fourth-largest trading partner for India, following North America, European Union, and Northeast Asia.

Most importantly, India is dependent on these countries to meet its energy needs. Of the total imports from West Asia, nearly two-thirds comprise petroleum products.

As far as India's overall import basket is concerned, petroleum products have a share hovering over 30 per cent. For instance, a fifth of the total crude oil imports is met by Iraq, followed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE at 18 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.

The UAE was also India's second-largest export and import market in 2021-2022. Similarly, Saudi Arabia was India's fourth-largest trading and import partner in the last fiscal year.

In February, India and the UAE signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. The trade pact was implemented last month.

India and Oman have also agreed to undertake a joint feasibility study, before going ahead with a preferential trade deal on limited goods.

Similarly, India is set to begin deeper engagements with GCC countries to finalise a free trade agreement with the group of nations.

India's exports to the six GCC nations stood at $43.93 billion in FY22, up 58.3 per cent on-year, while imports stood at $110.72 billion, up nearly 86 per cent on-year.

The share of exports was 10.4 per cent, compared to the total exports, while that of imports stood at 18 per cent in 2020-2021.

Petroleum products, precious and semi-precious stones, and plastics are the top imported items from the GCC.

Cereals, electrical equipment, apparel, and machinery are the top exported items in the region.

Biswajit Dhar, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the Gulf is an important region for India in terms of economic ties.

"UAE is the second largest export destination for India. India also meets its crude oil requirements from the Gulf region. After the UAE CEPA, there has been talks of a trade deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council," pointed out Professor Dhar.

"Apart from that lot of Indian exports that go to UAE are re-exported to Africa and other countries," Professor Dhar added. "That's why it is an important hub for Indian exports."

Shreya Nandi in New Delhi
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