By: Radhakrishna NS
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is expected to announce investments in energy and infrastructure during a visit to India and Pakistan in coming days as part of his efforts to wean the Saudi economy off oil exports.
He is also expected to visit China, Malaysia, and Indonesia during a tour that will be his first through the region since the storm over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
Prince Mohammed is expected to sign agreements, mostly linked to a refinery and the power sector, during the trip to Pakistan this weekend, Pakistani officials said.
The memorandums of understanding will include renewable energy projects and investments in petrochemicals and mineral resources, Saudi state news agency SPA said.
The prince is expected in New Delhi next week, along with leading Saudi businessmen, at the invitation of prime minister Narendra Modi, India’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday (12).
Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan was among a handful of leaders who attended an investment conference in Saudi Arabia in October, an event boycotted by many companies and world leaders in protest over Khashoggi’s killing.
India’s Modi met the prince in November, when they were both in Argentina for a Group of 20 summit. Saudi Arabia is India’s top supplier of crude oil but the two countries have expanded ties beyond energy, and their governments have agreed to build a strategic partnership, the foreign ministry said.
In a statement, it cited cooperation in areas including energy security, trade and investment, infrastructure, defence and security.
India is expecting Prince Mohammed to announce an initial investment in its National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), a quasi-sovereign wealth fund, to help accelerate the building of ports and highways, an Indian official said.
Saudi state media said Saudi officials will discuss an investment in NIIF.
Saudi Arabia has also flagged a desire to invest in India’s farm sector, with products to be exported to Saudi, another official at the trade ministry said.
However, progress on a $44 billion refinery that Indian state-run oil companies agreed to build with Saudi Aramco on India’s west coast has been held up by strong opposition from mango farmers who will lose their land.
Since taking office in 2014, Modi has sought to use India’s fast-growing economy to attract more investment from Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations.
As a fellow Muslim country, Pakistan has long maintained strong ties with Saudi Arabia. In late October, Riyadh offered Pakistan a $6bn loan to help keep its ailing economy afloat. Saudi Arabia has also announced plans for a $10bn refinery and petrochemical complex at the coastal city of Gwadar, where China is building a port as part of its vast Belt and Road initiative.
“They’re looking at the energy sector, at some of our privatisation plans that they might bid for through our privatisation process,” Pakistani investment minister Haroon Sharif said.
Sharif, who chairs Pakistan’s Board of Investment, said there was also Saudi interest in Pakistan’s mining sector.
“Saudi Arabia has huge resources. Their investment fund is over $1 trillion, so we want just a fraction of that,” said a second Pakistani minister, who did not wish to be named.
Saudi state news said Saudi officials will discuss investments with China, South Korea and Indonesia, in sectors including healthcare and telecommunications, without giving further details.