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Bridging the Gulf: Amid diplomatic row over remarks on the Prophet, PM Modi likely to visit UAE

PM Narendra Modi's Jan visit to UAE was cancelled due to the Omicron outbreak. However, the govt believes now is an “opportune” moment to strengthen bilateral ties with the UAE.

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New Delhi: Amid the diplomatic row between India and the Gulf nations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on his way back from the G7 summit that will take place in Germany later this month, ThePrint has learnt.

PM Modi was to be in UAE in January but the visit was cancelled after an outbreak of the Omicron variant of the Covid virus. However, the government believes now is an “opportune” moment to strengthen bilateral ties with the UAE considering the flak India has been receiving over the controversial remarks made about Prophet Muhammad by two former spokespersons of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), official sources told ThePrint.

According to the sources, among the countries that protested, UAE’s statements and its stance were not “harsh”. Neither did it summon India’s envoy to the country, unlike Kuwait, Qatar and Iran.

The foreign ministry of UAE last Monday said that the comments made by the BJP officials were “contrary to moral and humanitarian values and principles” and stressed on the “need for respecting religious symbols…and countering hate speech”.

Modi will be traveling to Schloss Elmau in Germany to attend the G7 Summit scheduled to be held from 26 to 28 June. The advance team from the ministry of external affairs, which prepares for a PM’s visit abroad, is expected to leave for the UAE soon, the sources added.


Also read: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Taliban, join diplomatic offensive, condemn ‘insult’ to Prophet by BJP leaders


Why good relations with the UAE are crucial

Enhancing ties with the UAE remains crucial for India, not just for its dependence on trade and business but also for the large presence of an Indian community there.

The visit also comes at a time when India and the UAE have signed a free trade agreement, officially called Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). The CEPA, signed in February, is the first such trade pact inked by the Modi government since it came to power in 2014. It is also the first such comprehensive trade deal signed by India with a Gulf country.

The agreement, which came into force in May, is expected to double the bilateral trade to $100 billion in the next five years, up from the current $50-60 billion at present, while eliminating tariffs on a range of products being exported by India and the UAE.

Modi was also expected to attend the Dubai Expo that took place from October 2021 to March 2022.

Sunjay Sudhir, India’s Ambassador to the UAE, recently said that both governments are chalking out a three-pronged strategy focusing on sector-specific initiatives that will be launched under the CEPA soon.

“Trade relations between both the UAE and India have reached a point where both the economies can immensely benefit from each other offering tremendous business opportunities. The current year will witness huge investments from the UAE into India and vice-versa,” Aman Puri, Consul-General of India in Dubai, said earlier this month at a business meeting there.

UAE is currently India’s third-largest trading partner with bilateral trade in 2019-20 valued at $59 billion. The UAE is also India’s second-largest export destination with exports reaching $29 billion in 2019-2020.

Since coming to power, PM Modi has visited the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) regularly to strengthen ties with them. In fact, the UAE had honoured him in 2019 by bestowing upon him their highest civilian award — the ‘Order of Zayed’ — in 2019.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)


Also read: Indians build the UAE. Delhi shouldn’t worry about pushback from Gulf nations


 

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