By Ashish Mehta
A change in policy involving the entry of UAE nationals to the subcontinent would further boost trade, tourism and economic cooperation between the two countries, argues Ashish Mehta
The flight from India to the UAE may be barely three hours, but the Indian diaspora living in the Gulf state has had to wait 34 long years for a visit from their prime minister. Better late than never. Narendra Modi, the first staunchly pro-business Indian PM in more than a decade, was particularly keen to enhance cooperation between the two states in trade and energy.
Renowned for his marketing mantras and economic diplomacy, Modi was expected to strongly present his case for both government and private investment into India, while offering to roll out the red carpet.
If he plays his cards right, Modi could succeed in attracting the billions of dollars in UAE reserves, helping to propel his ‘Make in India’ programme that includes smart cities and other major infrastructure projects.
But Modi faces stiff competition; in the current economic climate, dozens of countries are vying for a share of the UAE’s investment pie, offering various incentives.
One such example is the recent European visa waiver extended to UAE citizens for the 26 Schengen countries and eight non-Schengen states, allowing Emiratis to travel freely for up to 90 days.
This change in policy is quite a watershed and is poised to be instrumental in paving the way for greater interaction and thereby stronger bilateral relations through ease of trade and commerce between the UAE and much of Europe.
The question therefore arises: has Europe already stolen a march on India in attempts to cultivate closer investment partners?
India, too, has recently eased visa restrictions, allowing the majority of nationalities to apply online for collection at nine of its international airports, thus removing the laborious process of physically having to attend a visa application centre.
However, India needs to do more, and there is a case to be made to exempt Emiratis from visas altogether.
Owing to geographical proximities, the UAE and India have a lot to offer each other. For instance, while India continues its endeavour to be a production and manufacturing hub, the UAE can provide the playing field for the marketing, logistics, distribution and sale of all that is produced in India. Considering the magnitude, nature and history of trade relations between the two states, travel between them needs to be more convenient to help facilitate greater business connections.
It has recently been well reported that India is the UAE’s second-largest trade partner and the UAE is India’s third largest. There also are at least 2.5 million Indians who have made the UAE their home in recent decades.
The Modi government continues to look forward to the creation of a huge production base in the country and to promote India as a hub of manufacturing under the ‘Make in India’ campaign. However, there is still a lot of ground to be covered in view of the bigger challenges and tougher competition. The need, therefore, is to find new, potential, long-term, like-minded partners and make them part of the common growth story, while forging even stronger bonds with friendly nations and their people – the UAE and its nationals among them.
While the UAE continues to welcome Indians to work, invest and comfortably reside in the UAE, the Government of India must think beyond the electronic visa application facility for Emiratis. A waiver of visas altogether for UAE nationals will definitely be a step in the right direction.
It would be a win-win for both nations.