Qatar is an important country in the Gulf with which India has traditionally had strong bilateral ties. Energy security, trade, investments and the Indian expatriate community form the foundations of the bilateral relations. Qatar plays a significant role in India’s energy security and is the largest LNG supplier to India. In 2004, India had signed a 25-year agreement for annual import of 7.5 million tonnes of LNG from Qatar. In 2015, when the international petroleum prices tumbled, Doha agreed to India’s request for a reduction in price for LNG based on market compulsions. This gesture further strengthened Qatari position as a pillar in India’s energy security. At the same time, India is the second largest importer of Qatari LNG in the world contributing to the economy of the tiny peninsular nation.
Qatar is among India’s top 25 trading partners in the world with bilateral trade at US$ 10.95 billion in 2019-20 and it is the third largest trading partner among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries after UAE and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, India is among the top five trading partners of Qatar with future forecasts showing immense possibilities for growth in bilateral trade. Qataris are among the major investors in Indian market with Qatar being the fourth largest source for FDI into India among the GCC countries. Indians also contribute significantly to the business environment in Qatar with human resource in all sectors of the economy especially in the construction and service sectors. At 700,000, Indians are the largest expatriate community in Qatar comprising nearly 25 percent of the resident population.
In this backdrop, the recent two-day standalone visit of External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar to Qatar acquires significance, especially since India is looking to shrug off the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and boost its trade and commercial relations with the Gulf countries. India and Qatar had maintained diplomatic and political consultations through the difficult phase of the fight against COVID-19. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had thrice held telephonic conversations with Emir Tamim during the pandemic and the two leaders had agreed to cooperate in their fights to defeat the COVID-19.
During the visit, Dr. Jaishankar met with the top leadership of Qatar and held wide ranging talks with them on bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest. The Minister called on the Father Emir, Sheikh Hamad Al-Thani, and appreciated his contribution to the development of India-Qatar bilateral relations and his continued guidance in improving the ties. During his meeting with Emir Tamim, Dr. Jaishankar conveyed the personal message of Prime Minister Modi inviting Emir Tamim to visit India. The Emir accepted the invitation to visit India at an early date. Recalling his conversation with the Prime Minister, Emir Tamim underlined that the two leaders had agreed to set up a Task Force on investment and energy to further boost bilateral relations. Dr Jaishankar also thanked the Qatari leader on behalf of Prime Minister Modi for taking care of the Indian community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Jaishankar met with other Qatari leaders including Prime Minister and Interior Minister Khalid bin Khalifa Al-Thani, and held wide-ranging talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani. He invited the Foreign Minister to India for the first India-Qatar Joint Commission Meeting in 2021. The two leaders discussed important bilateral and regional issues and agreed to further “strengthen the multifaceted bilateral relationship in areas such as energy, trade, investment, food processing, healthcare, education, culture, defence and security.”
In an effort to boost the trade and investment ties between India and Qatar, the External Affairs Minister held an interactive session with Qatari business leaders underlining the conducive business environment and market opportunities in India, and the efforts made by the Government of India in this regard through flagship schemes such as “Make in India” and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. Dr. Jaishankar also held a virtual interaction with the Indian community appreciating their contribution to the local economy and their contribution in India’s fight against COVID-19.
India is making a concentrated effort to boost bilateral relations with the Gulf countries. Qatar is an important partner for India in the Gulf, and the visit of Dr. Jaishankar is likely to give a boost to bilateral relations in trade, commerce and investments.
Script: Dr. Mohd. Muddassir Qamar, Strategic Analyst on West Asia