India, UAE may sign comprehensive trade agreement by March

Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of State for Foreign Trade who was in New Delhi to launch CEPA negotiations with India told ET‘s
Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury that a comprehensive and mutually beneficial agreement can be reached by December 2021 and a deal can be signed in March 2022 subject to the completion of legal procedures and ratification by both parties.

UAE has been among India’s top trading partners. Could you elaborate on the current state of negotiations between India and UAE on the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement?
India is a key economic partner for the UAE and trade has existed between our nations for centuries. India is also our second-largest trading partner, accounting for nine percent of the UAE’s total foreign trade and 13 percent of non-oil exports. We anticipate that the value of the UAE’s non-oil trade with India will rise from pre-pandemic levels of $40 billion to over $100 billion within five years of an agreement being signed.

Today we officially kicked off negotiations to jointly establish the India – United Arab Emirates Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). It will enhance ties, deepen economic and investment opportunities, and mark a new phase of strategic cooperation between the two countries. Now that talks are under way, we are optimistic that an agreement can be completed rapidly. Piyush Goyal and I are satisfied at the progress we have made to date. We look forward to the next round of productive talks.

What are sectors that will be covered under CEPA? Will the service sector be included in the CEPA as Indians provide backbone of service sector in UAE?
The UAE aims to establish bilateral trade agreements that are comprehensive in nature. They include trade in goods, services and closer cooperation in priority areas that support our growth and sustainable development. India has an attractive and competitive services sector that makes an important contribution to the country’s GDP. Specific sectors that will be included in CEPA are still under discussion and this will be finalized in due course as talks progress.

Do you have any timeline in mind to conclude the CEPA? How will the UAE’s CEPA with India be different from the CEPAs with other nations?
India and the UAE have a shared ambition to use trade as a catalyst for economic growth and prosperity. Both sides aspire to conclude negotiations quickly and constructively. We are optimistic that a comprehensive and mutually beneficial agreement can be reached by December 2021. It will give us enough time to sign a deal in March 2022, subject to the completion of legal procedures and ratification by both parties.

What investments opportunities is the UAE exploring in India?
The UAE and India have a comprehensive investment partnership built on decades of growing collaboration. Today, the UAE is the 9th largest investor in India with over $18 billion in committed funds, while India’s investment in the UAE stood at around $8 billion in 2019 – representing around six percent of foreign direct investment in our country. The UAE-India High Level Joint Task Force has continued to explore areas to promote economic activity between both countries and we will meet again during Expo 2020 Dubai.

Two-way investment has flown into strategically important sectors, such as services, sea transport, power, infrastructure, real estate, healthcare and telecommunications. We see greatpotential to not only expand in these areas but explore new ones by committing capital to future industries like agritech, artificial intelligence, green infrastructure and renewable energy.

What role do you foresee for Indians in the UAE in the future and are more opportunities opening up for Indian professionals and workers?
The Indian community is an important part of the UAE’s multicultural society. More than 3.5 million Indian nationals call the UAE home and there are over 4,000 companies from startups to multinational corporations operating across real estate, retail, manufacturing, media and more.

We understand that attracting the best and brightest minds is inextricably linked to the sustainable development of our knowledge-driven economy. To this end, we recently launched the UAE Strategy for Talent Attraction and Retention, which aims to strengthen our position as a preferred destination for living, working and investing. We are also overhauling our visa system and offering new long-term residency visas. This has already benefited many Indian expat investors and entrepreneurs.

Earlier this week, for example, Dubai-based Indian philanthropist Joginder Singh Salaria received a golden visa for his humanitarian work. It is one of many cases demonstrating the prospects for Indian professionals and workers that make a positive social or economic contribution to the UAE. There are enormous opportunities for talented individuals from all over the world in the UAE.

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