India views Gulf ties as crucial

MUMBAI // India must forge closer economic ties with the Gulf region, the country's vice president told the Indian government in an impassioned speech on Saturday.

"For us in India, a 'Look West' policy" towards the Gulf Region will accomplish what the country's "Look East" policy did in the past," Hamid Ansari said at the Indian Council of World Affairs conference in New Delhi.

India adopted the "Look East" policy as the country liberalised its economy in the 1990s. It reflected a realisation among Indian policymakers that the country's interests could be served best by promoting partnerships with its eastern neighbours.

Mr Ansari's exhortation for a "Look West" policy indicates a growing need in India for a similar approach towards Gulf nations, particularly the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with which economic ties are growing rapidly.

"By all accounts, the Gulf region, especially the GCC, is set to play an increasingly global role in the near future. India, being an aspiring global player, needs to re-orient its strategy accordingly to consolidate its multifold engagement with the region," said Samir Pradhan, a senior researcher for the Gulf-Asia programme at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre.

"It is therefore highly imperative for India to devise a 'Look West' policy that would reap rich foreign policy dividends in the future."

India is heavily dependent on Gulf states for oil. Its growing population, rapid industrialisation and a robust economic growth has made India the world's fifth-largest energy consumer.

The GCC provides 63 per cent of its energy demand, worth US$49 billion (Dh180bn), and is the driving force for Indo-Gulf relations, analysts say.

But energy is not the only issue that binds India with the Gulf.

A report on India-GCC trade, released this year by India's external affairs ministry, identifies agriculture, fisheries, quarrying and mining as industries India and the Gulf can work together on.

The GCC nations - which include United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman - account for nearly 22 per cent of India's trade.

The UAE is India's top partner, accounting for $43.5bn in trade, ahead of China's $42.4bn and the US's $36.5bn.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India said in August that it expects trade between India and the GCC to grow from $105bn to more than $130 billion by 2013.

Indians make up the largest expatriate community in the GCC states, numbering about six million;1.2 million are in the UAE.

With sluggish economies in the US and much of Europe, India is increasingly turning to GCC countries for investment opportunities.

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