Emirates and India fortify their trade ties

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, ended a two-day visit to India with an announcement of a task force to find new opportunities for investment between the two countries.

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NEW DELHI // A UAE-India task force was formed yesterday to look at new opportunities for investment between the two countries.

The announcement was made at a news conference by the Indian external affairs minister, SM Krishna, at the end of a two-day visit by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The UAE and India are each other's biggest trading partners, and bilateral trade between the two countries in 2011-12 was worth US$67 billion (Dh246bn).

The energy and property sectors appear particularly primed for an increase in trade.

The new task force is to be led by Sheikh Hamad bin Zayed, the managing director of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (Adia), and Anand Sharma, India's commerce minister.

Sheikh Abdullah's trip to India was his third in less than a year, Mr Krishna pointed out, "an indication of the priority that each of us accords to our bilateral relations."

Sheikh Abdullah also met Mr Sharma and India's finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. Apart from the task force, the agenda included India's imports of UAE oil as well as Adia's investments in Indian real estate.

Sheikh Abdullah said that he "would like to see more UAE energy exports to India especially when it comes to crude oil … There are talks between our officials looking at these avenues and even further. We would like to see UAE presence in downstream investments in India, including petrochemicals".

India has recently cut, by 11 per cent, its imports of crude oil from Iran, under pressure from the United States, and the UAE - at present India's fifth biggest supplier of oil - could well pick up that slack.

In 2011-12 alone, India imported 15.79 million tonnes of crude oil from the Emirates, up from 14.7 million tonnes the year before.

"With India's growing refinery capacity, the UAE as a source of crude oil" would become increasingly important, said Chandarajit Banerjee, the director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, a non-governmental body.

Sanjaya Baru, a New Delhi-based director for geoeconomics and strategy at the International Institute for Security Studies, noted the recent visits by Indian diplomats to the UAE and to Saudi Arabia "to ensure supplies of oil … There is a lot of traffic between Delhi and the Gulf capitals".

The UAE, said Mr Baru, has made several major investments in India. The UAE ranks among the top 10 countries investing in the republic, with an estimated $8 billion invested in sectors such as telecommunications and real estate. Adia's real-estate investments, estimated at $400 to $500 million, are further evidence of deepening ties.

Adia's investments were made through property funds and private equity funds. In March, a source told Reuters that Adia was looking for opportunities to increase its direct investment.