After five months of pause due to the Israel-Gaza war, government hopes to move on the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor

Visit of Greek Prime Minister and other high-level delegations for the Raisina Dialogue could see talks on the economic corridor kick-started

February 06, 2024 11:41 pm | Updated February 07, 2024 01:38 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with U.S. President Joe Biden, Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and President of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen at the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment & India-Middle East-Europe Economics Corridor event during the G20 Summit 2023, in New Delhi, on September 9, 2023.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with U.S. President Joe Biden, Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and President of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen at the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment & India-Middle East-Europe Economics Corridor event during the G20 Summit 2023, in New Delhi, on September 9, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

After months of a pause on the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) that was launched during the G-20 summit in September 2023 but stalled due to the Israel-Hamas conflict, the government is expected to take talks on the project forward this month, when Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visits India. Mr. Mitsotakis, who is due to visit as a chief guest at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)-Observer Research Foundation’s (ORF) annual Raisina Dialogue on February 21-23, had held initial discussions on building Greece as a regional hub for trade into Europe, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi had travelled to Athens in August 2023. 

Officials said that in addition to bilateral talks with the Greek delegation, high-level meetings with U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, European Union Secretary-General Stefano Sannino and others on the sidelines of the Raisina Dialogue could yield some progress on the IMEC’s plans as well.

According to diplomatic sources, the visit by Mr. Mitsotakis could kickstart the talks over the next steps for the IMEC, particularly the use of Greek ports like Piraeus for the 3,000 km corridor that starts from India, and is designed to complete connectivity via Israel’s Haifa port to Europe, bypassing other routes like the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. Thus far, the eight parties that signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in New Delhi have only held informal consultations, the sources said. They include the European Union, France, Germany, India, Italy, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the U.S. 

According to the MoU signed on September 9, the participants had planned to meet, “within the next sixty days to develop and commit to an action plan with relevant timetables”. However, after the October 7 terror attacks in Israel and Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been unwilling to discuss “normal” ties with Israel, and the IMEC meeting hasn’t taken place more than 150 days later, leading experts to suggest that the project is unviable without progress on the Israel-Palestine conflict .

“This is a multilateral effort in which so many countries are involved, but the progress [on the IMEC] so far is very good,” Union Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said in response to a question from The Hindu. “There is clarity that this is a very big insurance against any disruptions in the trade routes,” he said, adding that the alignment of the route and “missing links” had been identified.

Diplomats and officials The Hindu contacted also insist that the IMEC project would not be paused indefinitely, given the strong commitment by all other parties involved, especially the U.S. and the European Union, that will be required to fund the initiatives through the G-7-led Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), as well as India, which hopes to benefit from the trade lines generated, and the possible railway contracts India might win in the Gulf region.

“We look forward to meeting with other IMEC participants at the earliest, mutually convenient opportunity,” the U.S. Embassy spokesperson said, stressing that the U.S. remains committed to the project when asked about the pause in the IMEC talks. Diplomats also pointed to the fact that French President Emmanuel Macron travelled to India in January with his “special envoy for IMEC” Gérard Mestrallet, whose appointment was welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the joint statement issued. 

“This is an inter-generational project, and it would be a mistake to see it through the prism of any one event or conflict. A corridor like this is not just about sending trade from point A to point B, but for building regional economic hubs and zones of prosperity along the way,” an official told The Hindu.

(With inputs from Maitri Porecha.)

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