The National Future Forum: could the UAE drive India's economy?

Dubai and Abu Dhabi could drive investment to India in a revival of ancient trading ties

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - May 8th, 2018: Reuben Abraham speaks about The future of India's infrastructure at The National's Future Forum. Tuesday, May 8th, 2018 at Cleveland Clinic, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Could the UAE drive India’s economy in the same way that Hong Kong fuelled the growth of China?

That is the prediction of Reuben Abraham, the chief executive of the IDFC, a leading Indian think tank.

With India set to leap frog Britain and France in the league table of world economies, now is the time to develop the relationship with the UAE, Mr Abraham told The National Future Forum on Tuesday.

“There are huge trading links between the subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula that go back millennia,” he told the forum. “Ever since the monsoons were discovered, Arab traders have been in the west coast of India.

“It is the same with currency. The Indian rupee used to be the currency here until 1966 or 1967.

“There’s a long-standing trading relationship, not necessarily with the UAE, but definitely with the Arabian Peninsula.”

That relationship is ripe for better development, Mr Abraham said. “On top of that you've got the current trading links. If you look at a place like Dubai and at the money in Dubai, I'd say a very large amount is generated by Indians sitting in Dubai.

“So there are countless reasons why you can have extraordinary ties between the two countries.

“I just feel that at least partially because we have forgotten own past histories that opportunity is not being seen for what it is.”

Historically, he said, Hong Kong acted “like a magnet” to drive in investment in China.


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The advantage for the two countries in working together was “it is not like building a relationship with an African country where you have to start from scratch.

"There are long historical ties, long people to people ties.”

One area he believes could experience rapid growth is higher education. For many Indians, the options have been between trying to gain admission at home where places are highly competitive, or going to North America to study. The UAE could be an ideal compromise solution if academic standards could be assured.

“To get into an elite Indian college today is extraordinary hard to do, getting into an Ivy League school is incredibly expensive.

“If I could get an education at $10,000 (Dh37,000) a year, or $40,000 for a degree I think it would be an explosive opportunity when you would maintain standards.”

The current political climate in the US means fewer Indian students are applying to study there, Mr Abraham said.

“If you look at the numbers of Indians, enrolment is going down a significant number in dollar terms.

Today that goes to Australia, Canada, New Zealand - those sort of places. Why not here?

“I'm a parent. When they are 17 years old, I would much rather have my kid two and half hours away in a secure protected environment, than 15 hours away.”