India Enhances Ties with the Gulf

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Nov. 10 – After initializing free trade agreements with several ASEAN countries, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeks to sign a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries as early as 2009. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) comprise the GCC.

“Next year, Oman is going to occupy the chair of the GCC and the prime minister has said that we should be ready to sign the FTA anytime in 2009,” an official told NDTv.

The FTA with the GCC is expected to cover three areas: goods, investments and services.

Singh is currently on a three day visit to the energy rich gulf countries where he signed agreements in the defense and security sectors with the government of Qatar, pacts include sharing of intelligence and data to prevent criminal and terrorist activities.

India imports 7.5 million tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) annually from Qatar. The discussions focused on how to upgrade the energy deal between the two sides from a buyer-seller relationship to a more sustainable relationship involving investments leading to a long-term partnership, the Hindu reported.

Similarly India and Oman have agreed to step up defence cooperation by upgrading their joint naval exercises. India also appreciated the Omani gesture of providing berthing facilities for its warship which is patrolling the piracy-hit waters off the shores of Somalia where 18 Indians are currently being held hostage by pirates, the Hindu also reported.