India – Saudi Arabia bilateral relations which earlier revolved around crude oil, have evolved into strategic partnership and greater investments. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman forges relationship with PM Modi crucially on Defence & Security as well. Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to India, Saud bin Mohammed Al Sati gives shapes to such dialogue with India. Ambassador gets candid in an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld’s Manish Kumar Jha & discusses diverse issues from energy to investment and peace process in Yemen to export of terrorism from Iran.
Estimated, Over 270,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 2000 deaths reported in Saudi Arabia due to the coronavirus pandemic, how is the Saudi government planning to contain the outbreak?
Domestic Efforts — As the threat of the COVID19 pandemic emerged, the Kingdom took all preventive measures to ensure that everyone within its boundaries remains safe. A comprehensive strategy to ensure testing, access to medical treatment for patients and a robust awareness program was put in place. The ministry of health in coordination with other ministries has been proactive in ensuring that the Kingdom is prepared and equipped to effectively fight the pandemic.
Our finance and health ministry have also been actively supporting efforts to minimize the impact of COVID 19. Including making decisions aimed to increase spending on the health sector and related services such as the launch of round-the-clock clinics titled “Tataman” (Get Assured) to examine anyone who has symptoms of the virus. Technology has been a great use to combat COVID-19 in the country. In May, the ministry announced the launch of a WhatsApp service, that offers an interactive chat through the WhatsApp messaging app which gives information about COVID-19, to anyone who contacts the number. Just recently, this month, the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) launched a mobile app called “Tabaud” (Distancing) to notify users if they have come in close contact with someone who is infected with COVID-19.
The Ministry of Health has also issued an awareness guide in several languages, including Arabic, Hindi, Urdu and English among other languages, to raise awareness about the spread of COVID-19. The Kingdom is also providing Coronavirus related medical care free of charge to all residents and expatriates in the country.
In order to support expats, Saudi Arabia’s General Directorate of Passports extend the validity of exit and return visas that expire between February 25 and May 24, 2020, at no charge. The extension will continue for an additional three months. These are some of the measures that Saudi Arabia has been employing to ensure health and safety for all.
International Efforts –The Kingdom has also taken a lead in ensuring that the fight against COVID pandemic is funded to the best of its abilities. In March, in response to an urgent appeal from the World Health Organization (WHO) the Kingdom provided USD 10 million in financial support for urgent action needed to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and to support countries with vulnerable healthcare infrastructures. In April, Saudi Arabia pledged USD 500 million to relevant international organizations to support global efforts in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from this, the Kingdom has called on all countries, non-governmental organizations, philanthropies, and the private sector to take part in the global efforts to close the required financing gap in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, which is estimated to be over USD 8 billion according to the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB).
The COVID-19 pandemic necessitates an international coordinated response. The Kingdom is working with international organizations and members of G20 to control and reduce the spread of the virus, protect people, mitigate its effects on the economy, and take the necessary measures to maintain the stability of the world economy.
How does Saudi G20 Presidency plan to contribute and restart the global growth engine?
Saudi Arabia is taking its leadership of G20 with great pride and ambitious goals have been set up. This is the first time that the summit is being hosted by an Arab nation and three aims: empowering people, especially women and youth; safeguarding the planet; and shaping new frontiers, particularly relating to innovation and technology were announced when the Kingdom took over the presidency. Today, due to the prevailing COVID situation, the G-20 group under the Presidency of Saudi Arabia is taking extraordinary measures to combat this global pandemic.
The first Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit was held virtually on the 26th of March. At the conference, leaders from the G-20 countries agreed to take all necessary measures to contain the pandemic. They also supported strengthening of the WHO’s mandate in the fight against pandemics, including delivery of medical supplies, diagnostic tools, treatments, medicines and vaccines.
In response to the commitment made during the Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Virtual Summit, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has pledged USD 500 million to relevant international organizations to support global efforts in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. This pledge will support emergency and preparedness response, developing and deploying new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, unmet needs for international surveillance and coordination, and ensuring sufficient supplies of protective equipment for professionals. Saudi Arabia will also allocate USD 150 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation (CEPI), USD 150 million to The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), and US$200 million to other international and regional health organizations and programs.
Since then, virtual conferences of G-20 officials have been held at regular intervals. The first leaders meeting was immediately followed by virtual meetings of G20 finance and energy ministers. On all such occasions, India has worked closely with Saudi Arabia in its efforts to coordinate a global response to the pandemic.
In the 2nd virtual meeting of G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors a landmark outcome of the meeting was G20 countries agreeing to suspend debt service payments for the world’s poorest countries through the end of the year. According to the Finance Minister of Saudi Arabia, this will free up more than USD 20 billion for the countries to spend on improving their health systems and fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Saudi Arabia will continue its efforts to garner more coordinated responses from the world.
Health Ministers of all G20 countries held a virtual meeting to coordinate efforts, Employment Ministers also met to address the impact on Labor markets.The G20 Trade and Investment ministers met on May 14th, 2020 and agreed to cooperate and contribute towards global economic recovery. Till date, G-20 group has pledged more than USD 21 billion to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he saw over $100 billion worth of investment opportunities in India over the next two years. How is it unfolding so far?
India is one of our most important strategic partners and we are working on identifying and prioritizing investment opportunities. India is poised to become a USD 5 trillion economy by 2025 and aspires to become a USD 10 trillion economy by 2030. Saudi Arabia is looking to partner with India in this path of growth wherever is possible.
The agreement of the Strategic Partnership Council (SPC) between the two countries has been signed. Meetings of ministerial committees concerning investment, energy and trade will be convened soon. Investments between the two countries are ongoing. Aramco’s decision to buy stake in Reliance’s oil to chemical (OTC) business is a good signal to the importance we attach to the Indian sector of energy and shows our long term interest and commitment to invest in India. Being termed as one of the largest FDI investments in India, as per the deal, Saudi Aramco will acquire a 20 per cent stake in Reliance’s oil-to chemicals (OTC) business at an enterprise value of USD 75 billion. Apart from this, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia is also looking at investment possibilities. As India is one of the fastest growing economies and also one of the largest, there is ample opportunity for collaboration between our two friendly nations.
Saudi Arabia is India’s second biggest supplier of oil and kingdom has extended helping hand to India in achieving emergency crude reserves. Could you elaborate on this?
The cooperation that Saudi Arabia and India share in the energy sector is very important. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landmark visit to Saudi Arabia in October 2019, a MoU between Saudi Aramco and Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited (ISPRL) was signed to build emergency crude reserves against oil price volatility and supply disruptions. In 2020, the Kingdom extended support to India in filling up the emergency crude reserves. We will continue to meet India’s energy needs.
Maharashtra project which is the largest Greenfield refinery in India and jointly executed by Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, the United Arab Emirates’ ADNOC and Indian public-sector oil companies is facing delays. What are the issues? Do such intermittent delays of large projects impact the scope of further investment?
The Ratnagiri project which will support India in meeting its energy needs is one of the key projects. From our side, we look forward to seeing this important project start very soon.
What will be the Saudi Arabia OPEC’s oil strategy in terms of output in the times of COVID-19?
Saudi Arabia supports stability of the global oil markets and has been working towards achieving this goal during the Extraordinary Ministerial Virtual Meetings of OPEC+ and G20 as well. The Kingdom, along with Russia has confirmed its commitment to implement the OPEC + agreement, whereby the global oil production will be reduced by 9.7 million barrels per day during the next two years. In addition to the reduction committed by the Kingdom in the latest OPEC+ agreement. Through this additional cut, the Kingdom aims to encourage OPEC+ cooperation, as well as other producing countries, to comply with the production cuts they have committed to, and to provide additional voluntary cuts, in an effort to support the stability of global oil markets.
With respect to Yemen, there was news recently that there will be a meeting to discuss the Riyadh Agreement. Could you elaborate more on this?
The Iran backed militia known as the Houthis have caused distruction in Yemen and resulted in great deal of suffering to the people of Yemen. It also endangered the security and stability in the region including shipping routs and maritime security. Since 2015 Houthis launched hundrerds of terrorist attacks against civilian targets using Iranina made weapons.There was an attack on the Kingdom just this week, with eight armed drones and three ballistic missiles targeting hundreds of civilians. They were intercepted by the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen and widely condemned by the international community.
Regarding the Riyadh agreement which was signed in Novemper 2019, it came as a result to the Kingdom’s call for constructive dialogue, earnest engagement, greater unity, and an immediate cessation of hostilities. This pivotal agreement paves the way for a sustainable political settlement and ensures the return of much needed stability in the South of Yemen. The agreement reaffirms Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic, economic and military support for the people of Yemen, and demonstrates the Kingdom’s commitment to achieving a lasting peace in Yemen, based on UNSC Resolution 2216, the GCC initiative, the outcomes of the National Dialogue.
Representatives of the government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council will be meeting in the Kingdom soon to move forward in implementing the Riyadh Agreement including observing ceasefire. This move has been welcome by the Coalition to Resore Legitmacy in Yemen. It is the sole purpose of the coalition to stand by Yemen and its brotherly people, and continue its efforts to unite Yemeni people, bridge the gap between their components and support their endeavors to restore their security, stability, state unity and territorial integrity.