A multibillion-dollar rail and shipping corridor that links India, the Middle East and Europe was announced at the G20 summit in New Delhi on Saturday.
“This is a big deal,” said US President Joe Biden. “This is a really big deal.”
The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, which includes the UAE, Saudi Arabia, India, Jordan, Israel and the European Union would “significantly enhance connectivity and integration between participating countries”, UAE state news agency Wam reported.
It will be made up of two pathways: “the east corridor connecting India to the Arabian Gulf and the northern corridor connecting the Arabian Gulf to Europe”, Wam reported.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the network reflected Mr Biden’s vision for “far-reaching investments” that come from “effective American leadership” and a willingness to embrace other nations as partners.
He said the enhanced infrastructure would boost economic growth, help bring countries in the Middle East together and establish that region as a centre for economic activity instead of as a “source of challenge, conflict or crisis” as it has been in recent history.
“The cross-border ship-to-rail transit corridors will reduce shipping costs across the network and facilitate trade in goods and services to, from, and between the UAE, Saudi Arabia, India, and Europe,” Wam reported.
The UAE is participating at the G20 as a guest of honour.
The project will help bolster clean hydrogen exports too, “as part of joint efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions and integrate environmental conservation in the initiative”, Wam reported.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and other leaders from around the world participated in the announcement.
“Enhancing connectivity with all regions has been a key priority for India,” Mr Modi said, speaking through a translator.
“We believe that connectivity is a means to not only increase mutual trade between different countries but also increase mutual trust.”
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman mentioned a figure of $20 billion during the announcement. It was unclear if that sum applied solely to Saudi Arabia's commitment.
Amos Hochstein, Mr Biden's coordinator for global infrastructure and energy security, laid out a rough timeline for the project over the next year.
In the next 60 days, working groups will put together a fuller plan and set timelines. The first phase will involve identifying the areas that need investment and where physical infrastructure can be connected between countries. Hochstein said the plans can be put into place over the next year so that the project can move on to setting up finances and construction.
Mr Sullivan said the project started coming together after Mr Biden visited Jeddah in July 2022, where he emphasised a need for greater regional economic integration.
In January, the White House started having conversations with regional partners about the concept. By spring, maps and written assessments of existing rail infrastructure in the Middle East were being drafted. Mr Sullivan, and senior White House aides Hochstein and Brett McGurk, travelled to Saudi Arabia in May to meet their Indian, Saudi and UAE counterparts.
Ms von der Leyen described the project as a “green and digital bridge across continents and civilisations”. She added that it includes cables to transmit electricity and data.
She also announced a trans-African corridor connecting the Angolan port of Lobito with landlocked areas of the continent: the Kananga province in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the copper-mining regions of Zambia.
Speaking of the African project, Mr Biden called it a “game changing regional investment” and said “both of these are huge, huge steps forward.”