India-UAE ties are not only comprehensive but strategic: India’s envoy Sunjay Sudhir

Indian ambassador to United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sunjay Sudhir, says one visit of crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as the chief guest of the Republic Day parade in 2017 was a turning point in shaping bilateral ties between India and the UAE into a highly strategic one. While talking to Shantanu Nandan Sharma in Dubai, the diplomat adds that the high level of trust between the two nations ensured trade negotiations could be concluded in just 88 days. Edited excerpts of the full interview:

How do you describe the India-UAE trade pact that will likely come into effect from May 1?
When there is no CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement), the annual bilateral trade between India and the UAE is $60 billion. India is the second largest trading partner for the UAE and the UAE is the third largest trading partner for India. And all these are happening without the CEPA. Now, as the two countries have decided to draw up an institutional mechanism to give trade preferences to each other, the bilateral trade is bound to shoot up. So far as CEPA is concerned, it’s a very comprehensive document, covering not only goods but also services. As far as India’s exports are concerned, the day CEPA comes into effect, likely from May 1, our items worth 90% of current exports will have zero duty, down from 5% at present. So our export products will be in an advantageous position vis-a-vis competing exporters from other nations. Sectors, mainly the labour intensive ones, for instance, gems and jewellery, textiles, sports goods, engineering products, pharmaceuticals etc. will benefit a lot. These are also the sectors which create a large number of jobs.

What is one big reason why India and UAE could clinch the deal in just three months of negotiations?

Trade negotiations usually take a very long time. In the case of India and UAE, negotiations were concluded in just 88 days flat. That was because of the commitment of the leadership as well as the level of trust between the two nations. There were hard negotiations but in the end of the day it was a win-win document for both the nations.

Can the same template be used for the GCC?

Work on India-GCC FTA has resumed. As there is already a template in the form of India-UAE CEPA, it is becoming easier for the other countries in the GCC to follow the same template. There is a possibility that the same architecture of the CEPA will be followed.

How important is the UAE for India’s strategic and geopolitical interests?
Relations between India and UAE have historically been strong. Today that relations have reached an unprecedented level. Among all the countries in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa), the UAE is the largest trading partner for India. It is also the largest investor among all these nations. For the UAE, signing the pact with India is a big confidence-building measure. When Covid pandemic disrupted the supply lines relating to food, India was one big country that came forward for UAE’s food security, establishing broken supply lines. It was the time UAE realised how important it is to create a robust trade and investment relations with India.

In geopolitical terms, the relations are better than ever before. In 2017, when crown prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was the chief guest in our Republic Day parade, India and UAE signed a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement that elevated our bilateral relationship to a different league altogether. We don’t have that kind of arrangement for most other countries. It gave a quantum leap to the ties. The thrust is that the relationship will not only be comprehensive but also strategic. And as a part of making the relationship more comprehensive, CEPA has been signed.

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