Lauding Saudi Arabia’s valuable role as a “reliable partner” in meeting India’s energy needs, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday said conditions were ripe for moving beyond the traditional buyer-seller relationship to a comprehensive energy partnership.

“Indian companies are well-equipped to participate in the upstream and downstream oil and gas sector projects in Saudi Arabia. We should also establish new partnerships in the area of new and renewable energy through sharing of clean technologies and joint collaborations,” Dr. Singh said. He was addressing the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry on the second day of his visit to the oil-rich kingdom. Saudi Arabian Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah Zainal Ali Reza and members of the council were present during Dr. Singh’s address.

Pointing out that the robust growth of Indian and Saudi Arabian economies offer immense opportunities for business communities from both sides, Dr. Singh noted that bilateral trade had reached almost $25 billion in 2008-09.

“Indian investments into the Kingdom have risen considerably and today stand at more than $2 billion covering over 500 joint ventures,” he told the Council and top business leaders here. Dr. Singh said Indian public sector company RITES recently won a contract to participate in the north-south Railways project, but added that there was potential for doing much more.

Acknowledging India’s vast needs for high quality modern infrastructure, the Prime Minister said India opened its doors to foreign investment and extended an invitation to Saudi investors and entrepreneurs to explore investment opportunities. He specifically referred to the construction, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, health, agriculture, energy, telecom, tourism and other service sectors, where Saudi investments in India could flow in. Since 1990, he said, the Saudi Arabian economy had quadrupled in size and undergone substantial diversification with the strengthening of the non-oil sector. He said theambitious economic cities that are proposed to be set up have the potential to further transform the Saudi economy and enhance the weight of its economy globally.

The Prime Minister said both India and Saudi Arabia should also look at new areas of cooperation. “Education and skill development are of primary importance to both ourcountries. India has a proven track record in the field of knowledge-based industries, which have great potential for improving the skill set of the work force,” he said.

While showcasing India’s strengths in knowledge-based sectors, Dr. Singh said India would be happy to share its experience with Saudi Arabia in the area of human resource development. “Cooperation in the areas of science and technology and space technology are other areas for future cooperation.”

Dr. Singh said the integration of “our economies with the rest of the world has [not only] created new opportunities but also brought [about] new challenges.”

He told the business leaders that global financial crisis had thrown up a broad agenda for global action and reforms, and the role of emerging economies such as India and Saudi Arabia within the G-20 framework and otherwise would be crucial to the restructuring of the global economic and financial architecture.

He said that India viewed its economic cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the wider context of its interactions with the entire Gulf region. “This is an area with which we have deep and historical ties. The Gulf countries are our natural partners in every sense of the term. Indians are the largest expatriate community in every country of the Gulf Cooperation Council,” Dr. Singh said. He expressed confidence that such interactions would bring vitality and dynamism in the cooperation between India and Saudi Arabia. He said India saw Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner for promoting peace, stability and economic development that would bring benefits not only to the two countries but to the region and the world at large.

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