India, Saudi join hands for biz visas

                                      
The decision followed extensive discussions at the eighth session of the Indo-Saudi Joint Commission at the Riyadh Conference Palace yesterday, during which Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee led the Indian side while the kingdom's delegation was headed by its Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah Zainal Alireza.

The new scheme, under which long-term, multiple entry visas would be granted to entrepreneurs, would facilitate frequent business visits from both sides and enhance bilateral economic and commercial exchanges, officials said.

The Indian and Saudi sides held talks on a plethora of issues ranging from economic and commercial exchanges, investment, security to labour, visas and community welfare.

The two sides also decided to cooperate in the fields of customs and oil, gas and minerals, apart from strengthening cooperation in the science and technology sector. New areas of cooperation such as engineering, agricultural and higher education were also discussed.

"The Indo-Saudi Joint Commission meeting was fruitful and brought in new vistas of cooperation thereby deepening the economic and commercial relations," Mukherjee told reporters.

"The meeting also addressed the concerns of both sides regarding visas, labour issues and community welfare matters," Mukherjee said.

Both sides also agreed to set up a monitoring mechanism that would report to the respective co-chairs every six months on the progress in implementation of the recommendations made during the meeting.
Alireza said at the meeting that relations between the kingdom and India would reach new heights in economy and trade.

"The two countries share common goals towards the development of economy and trade, as a result we could see remarkable developments in bilateral relations in the relevant sectors," he said.


Responding to the Saudi minister's remarks, Mukherjee praised the endeavours of the Saudi government in supporting India at all international forums, including the G-20.

"We share identical views on the themes of the G-20, including the ongoing deliberations on climate change and look forward to continued cooperation from Saudi Arabia," he said.

On the sidelines of the meeting of the Joint Commission which was set up in 1983, Mukherjee had an audience with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud and discussed key bilateral, regional and international issues. He also met Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal and Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf.

Earlier yesterday, Mukherjee inaugurated the Indian Textiles Exhibition and Buyer-Seller Meet at Hotel Riyadh Palace along with the Saudi Commerce Minister.

The show attended by more than 20 Indian companies was organised by the Synthetic Rayon and Textile Export Promotion Council (SRTEPC).

India's export of man-made fibre textiles to Saudi Arabia amounted to USD 129 million in 2008, which posted a growth of 20 per cent over 2007, said V K Ladia, SRTEPC's Vice Chairman. The buyer-seller meet will also be organised at Hotel Trident in Jeddah on November 4 and 5.

An exhibition of catalogues of Indian companies and products -- India Catex 2009 -- was also held along with the textiles exhibition at Hotel Riyadh Palace. In addition to the official delegation, Mukherjee was accompanied by over 50 businesspersons representing elite business houses from public and private sectors of India.

Alireza said it was extremely important for the two sides to create an institutional framework by which certain actions can be taken and plans made for moving forward. "We have moved from what used to be the old world to the new world," he said.

In the field of petroleum and mineral resources, the two sides agreed on the importance of supporting and activating the role of the Secretariat General for the International Energy Forum.

Trade relations between India and the kingdom go back several centuries. The value of two-way trade between the two countries in 2006-07 was more than USD 23 billion, including import of crude oil and products, while joint investments exceeded USD 3 billion.

India's exports to the kingdom increased from USD 1,835.78 million in 2005 to USD 2,630.47 million in 2006, registering an impressive growth rate of over 43 per cent which was the highest among the top 10 trading partners of Saudi Arabia.

India's imports from the kingdom also increased by over 20 per cent from USD 10,730 million in 2005 to USD 12,939 million in 2006. India, which is the fifth largest market for Saudi goods, ranks 10th in the Saudi imports market list and is the source of around 3.09 per cent of the kingdom's total imports.

"An interesting aspect of the kingdom's exports to India is the sustained growth of its non-oil exports, which have increased from USD 463.99 million in 2001-2002 to USD 1264.20 million during 2004-05, registering a 172 per cent growth in the four-year period," said Rajeev Shahare, the deputy chief of mission at the Indian embassy in Riyadh.

"There is a vast potential between the two countries in the fields like hydro-carbons, power, railways, roads, telecommunications, information technology, bio-technology, pharmaceuticals, consultancy, ducation, tourism and tourism-related infrastructure," Shahare said.

The Indian delegation also lauded the kingdom's decision of granting a license to the State Bank of India.
During the meeting, the Saudi-Indian Joint Fund, which was established between the General Investments Fund in the kingdom and the Infrastructure Financing and Development Institution in India with a capital of USD 750 million, also came up for discussion. 

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