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Politics

Modi woos key Gulf trade partner

Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes a selfie at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi on the first of his two days in the UAE. (Photo courtesy of Indian Government Press Information Bureau)

NEW DELHI -- There are 700 flights each week between India and the UAE but it has been 34 years since an Indian prime minister visited the Gulf state, a key trading partner.

     "I promise this will not happen again," said Narendra Modi, the first Indian premier to arrive since Indira Gandhi in 1981.

     Modi was met on arrival by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and five of his brothers, reflecting the importance attached to the visit. The two leaders had a formal meeting the next day.

     India is the UAE's second largest trading partner and the UAE is India's third largest; annual bilateral trade is valued at around $60 billion. 

     "India's potential and the UAE's power can make the dream of an Asian century a reality," Modi told a gathering of potential investors in Abu Dhabi, the capital, portraying Asia's third largest economy as "a $1 trillion" investment opportunity.

     Modi said his Bharatiya Janata Party government, which took office in May 2014, has inherited some problems from the previous administrations. "I will try to work on priority basis on things which got stalled due to the indecisiveness and lethargy of [previous] governments," he said.

     Modi said India has a stable and decisive government with a parliamentary majority, and that sectors such as defense manufacturing and insurance have been opened up to 49% foreign ownership. He also pointed to opportunities in infrastructure and real estate, and spoke about railways, low-cost housing and port-led development.

     With a population of 1.25 billion, India plans 50 million affordable houses by 2022, the year it celebrates its 75th anniversary of independence. There are also plans to improve cold storage and warehousing to spare a third of Indian agricultural output from spoiling. Other investment opportunities include renewable energy and tourism.

     Modi paid a visit to Masdar City, a zero carbon development in Abu Dhabi by Mubadala Development which uses solar and other renewable energy sources.

     "Masdar City is an amazing project, illustrating a path-breaking approach to urban development and clean energy," Modi tweeted.

     Modi arrived in the UAE on Sunday for the two-day visit. On his first day, he visited Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, and a camp housing thousands of Indian workers.

     The UAE is home to about 2.6 million Indians who make up about 30% of the population and constitute the largest expatriate community. Remittances to India are worth $10 billion annually. According to the Indian embassy, over 60% of Indian expatriates are blue collar.

     Indian companies in the UAE include Bharat Heavy Electricals, Dabur, Indian Oil and Infosys Technologies. Citing the Indian Business and Professional Council of Dubai, the Indian embassy said investments by Indian companies in the Gulf nation exceed $55 billion.

     To mark Modi's visit, the government ended a long wait and allotted a plot for a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi. Modi called it a "great step" and expressed his gratitude.

     Modi is to address members of the Indian community at a cricket stadium in Dubai, and more than 50,000 people are expected.

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