Riyadh, Feb 28 (IANS) : The Saudi Arabian leadership Sunday lauded the contributions of 1.8-million strong expatriate Indian population to the development of their nation during the course of their engagements with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here.
"The Saudi dignitaries expressed very positive feelings about the presence of the Indian community here and the very important contribution they have made to this country," Latha Reddy, secretary (east) in the external affairs ministry, told the media.
Indians make up the largest expatriate community in this Gulf nation.
Apart from professionals across various sectors, a vast number of Indians are engaged as blue-collar workers in the country’s construction sector.
"They (the Saudi leadership) said that through their (expatriate Indians’) trustworthiness and dependability, they have truly become not just the largest community of foreign nationals here in Saudi Arabia but also one of the most dependable," Reddy said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is on a three-day official visit to Saudi Arabia.
India, Saudi Arabia aim for major JVs, investments
India and Saudi Arabia Sunday agreed that despite growing bilateral trade there was still a vast area of investment still to be tapped.
"On the economic and commercial side, both sides expressed happiness that our trade is growing and we are now at $26-billon two-way trade," Latha Reddy, secretary (east) in the Indian ministry of external affairs, said on the second day of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s three-day official visit to Saudi Arabia.
"But it was felt that there was a vast potential yet to be tapped, particularly in the area of investments, and both sides agreed towards facilitating major joint ventures and investments between our countries," she said.
Briefing the media, Reddy said Saudi Arabia’s Minister for Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Al Naimi, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal and Minister for Commerce and Industry Abdulla Zainal Ali Reza called on Manmohan Singh.
"Some of the areas which were identified were petrochemicals, fertilisers, and also tie-ups between institutes of technology, the healthcare sector," Reddy said.
Overall, she added, the Saudi leaders expressed confidence that there would be a substantial increase in Saudi investment in India over the coming years as the country was seen as a safe and secure environment for investment.
"They also expressed an interest in seeing an early conclusion of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) free trade agreement," the secretary said.
"Both sides agreed to give importance to this subject and work towards an early conclusion of this agreement which would certainly boost trade between the two countries."
According to Reddy, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company Aramco informed the Indian side that it has set up a procurement office in India that was procuring $400 million worth of goods and services from India.
"The prime minister emphasised that we already have in place the double taxation avoidance agreement and the bilateral investment protection agreement, which would give good safeguard and protection for any major investment by Saudi Arabia," she said.
Reddy said the joint commission between the two sides and meetings on a regular basis would carry forward all important trade, investment and economic matters.
"Both countries agreed that their national industrial development policies would be a useful area for mutual exchange of information since both countries had expressed interest in bringing up the share of their manufacturing industries in their respective GDPs (gross domestic products)," she said, adding that both sides agreed to keep direct lines of communication open to resolve all issues without going through the normal "bureaucratic measures".
India, Saudi Arabia to sign about 10 agreements
Around ten agreements, including an extradition treaty, is likely to be signed during the current visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Saudi Arabia. A Riyadh Declaration is likely to cement the bilateral ties that have gone "beyond the normal cliches", Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor said here.
"You may see language in the Riyadh Declaration you may not have seen before," Tharoor said while informally interacting with the media here late Saturday night after the prime minister arrived here on a three-day leading a powerful delegation of ministers and officials.
It is the first visit of an Indian prime minister to Saudi Arabia after 28 years.
The Riyadh Declaration is likely to take forward further what the historic Delhi Declaration, signed during the visit of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz to India in 2006, had chalked out.
Around 10 agreements covering fields like security, science and technology, culture and media are likely to be signed during the course of the prime minister’s visit, the highlight of which will be an extradition treaty between the two sides.
Calling for a wide-ranging strategic partnership between the two sides, the Delhi Declaration had charted out a new path for enhanced cooperation in energy and economic ties and a commitment by both sides to cooperate in the fight against terrorism.
Stating that there has been a qualitative change in relations between India and Saudi Arabia, Tharoor said: "It has gone beyond the normal cliches of bilateral relations. This is a relationship that has genuinely taken a leap forward."
According to the minister, when the Saudis use terms like strategic partnership, "one talks about a shared view of the world".
"We have seen the problem of so-called state terrorism. But we can sensitise our friends here on this," Tharoor said.
During parleys with King Abdullah Sunday night, the issue of regional security and anti-terrorism measures is likely to get top priority.
Regarding the issue of good Taliban and bad Taliban, Tharoor said the Indian side would make it very clear that there will be no place in the peace dialogue for those who try to enforce their extreme views on religion through the barrel of the gun.
"Those people who are called Taliban and who are willing to accept the democratic process and are willing to lay down arms and participate in the national integration of the Afghan country within the national system under (Afghan President) Hamid Karzai, such people India is willing to see coming," he said.
"Those who believe that pluralism is wrong, who believe in the extreme view of their religion and who want to enforce their views of their religion through the barrel of the gun, such people will have no place in the dialogue," Tharoor said.
"This is what we will be saying to the Saudi side. And I am sure the Saudis will not disagree."
The minister also mentioned Saudi Arabia’s outright condemnation of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. "After 26/11, they were vociferous in their condemnation and sent a senior leader to India to express their views," the minister pointed out.
Saudi media gives wide coverage to Manmohan’s visit
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the first by an Indian prime minister in 28 years, is being widely covered by the Saudi press with the Arab News headlining the front page with "Indian PM on historic visit".
Stating that the visit was long overdue, the daily, in its editorial, said that both countries have much in common. "Each has been undergoing far-reaching changes and each has set out to assert a high profile role on the world stage, for instance as members of the G20," it wrote.
Stating that high hopes rested on the renewal of what has been a historic relationship, the editorial went on to say: "Saudi Arabia’s trading importance to India extends beyond the fact that we supply a quarter of India’s oil needs. Our non-oil exports have grown strongly in recent years. As India’s spectacular economic growth continues, Saudi capital can help finance new ventures."
The Arab News editorial also stated that Indian exports to Saudi Arabia have, meanwhile, been coming close to doubling year on year and at the end of 2008 stood at more than $3.7 billion.
"Clearly we have much to gain from India’s burgeoning IT and high technology sector. With world-class facilities such as King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), the opportunities for much closer cooperation, not least on advanced research, are obvious."
On the issue of terrorism, it said both India and Saudi Arabia have been experiencing the scourge of terror "and are watching with concern as the region now grapples with the hydra of extremism".
"A stable Pakistan is a key to wider regional security and indeed prosperity," it stated.
However, it added that the inconclusive end to last week’s talks between India and Pakistan was a disappointment to all parties.
"The important factor is, however, that both New Delhi and Islamabad are talking again and in doing so recognize that it is only through negotiations, however long and hard, that a lasting settlement of their differences will be ironed out," it said.
Earlier, in an interview with the Saudi Gazette, Manmohan Singh said that tackling the the common problem of terrorism is something India would seek help from Saudi Arabia.
"Both King Abdullah and I reject the notion that any cause justifies wanton violence against innocent people," the prime minister is quoted as saying.
"We are strong allies against the scourge of extremism and terrorism that affects global peace and security."