India and the United Arab Emirates signed a significant pact on Tuesday aimed at establishing a trade corridor linking Europe to India through parts of the Middle East via sea and rail. This ambitious plan, supported by the United States and the European Union, holds promise for enhancing regional connectivity and economic cooperation.

Strategic Timing: Prime Minister Modi’s visit coincides with India’s upcoming national elections slated to commence in April, underscoring the importance of fostering international partnerships and economic ties amidst domestic political developments.

Key Events During Visit: PM Modi was scheduled to inaugurate the Middle East’s largest Hindu temple on Wednesday, following a community event in Abu Dhabi where he addressed thousands of expatriates. This visit primarily aims to engage with the Indian diaspora, despite the fact that expatriates in the UAE are unable to cast votes from abroad.

Significance of Indian Diaspora in UAE: With approximately 3.5 million Indian nationals, the UAE hosts the largest expatriate community in the Gulf region, making it a vital demographic for strengthening bilateral relations and economic collaboration.

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Bilateral Meetings and Deals: PM Modi held discussions with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, marking their fifth meeting within eight months. Several agreements were inked, including a bilateral investment treaty, building upon previous economic partnerships established under the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement signed in 2022.

Regional Connectivity Goals: The proposed trade corridor, announced in September at the G20 summit in New Delhi, aims to extend from India across the Arabian Sea to the UAE, with potential links through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel, ultimately connecting to Europe. However, the official statement did not mention involvement from countries other than India and the UAE.

Current Regional Dynamics: The agreement on the India-Middle East Economic Corridor comes amidst ongoing conflicts, such as the four-month-long Gaza conflict, which has disrupted plans for further integration between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Saudi Arabia’s decision to halt normalization plans also adds complexity to regional dynamics.

Personal Diplomacy: PM Modi’s close relationship with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, often referred to as his brother, underscores the personal diplomacy at play in strengthening bilateral ties and fostering regional stability.

Shared Vision for the Future: During their meeting, Sheikh Mohamed expressed optimism about the future of India-UAE relations, highlighting the role of their partnership in fostering hope and realizing mutual ambitions amidst regional challenges.

UAE-Israel Diplomatic Relations: In 2020, the UAE established diplomatic ties with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords, a US-backed initiative that spurred similar agreements with other Arab nations like Bahrain. Despite ongoing conflicts, the UAE has maintained these relations, albeit criticizing Israel’s actions, particularly its bombing of Gaza, and advocating for a ceasefire.

India-UAE Corridor Agreement: The recent framework agreement between India and the UAE suggests a commitment from both nations to proceed with plans for the trade corridor, which could potentially challenge China’s Belt and Road Initiative, aimed at enhancing global trade infrastructure and connectivity.

Regional Challenges: The signing of the corridor agreement coincides with Yemen’s Houthi movement launching attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea, citing opposition to Israel’s actions in Gaza. These attacks pose a threat to trade routes via the sea, highlighting the strategic importance of the proposed corridor.

Bilateral Cooperation: In addition to the corridor agreement, India and the UAE signed a bilateral investment treaty and exchanged cooperation agreements encompassing areas such as electrical interconnection, trade facilitation, and digital infrastructure development.

PM Modi’s Engagements: Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to address tens of thousands of the Indian diaspora in Abu Dhabi and participate in a summit in Dubai before inaugurating the Middle East’s first-ever stone-built Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi. This visit marks his seventh to the Gulf state since assuming office, underscoring the significance of strengthening ties with one of India’s major trading partners.

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