Investment, diaspora on agenda for Indian PM's UAE trip
Narendra Modi set for sudden trip to UAE, his first to Arab country

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi starts a surprise trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday, his first to an Arab country.

The two-day visit suddenly announced on Thursday will make him the first Indian prime minister to visit the Gulf nation in 34 years.

Modi praised the economic success of the UAE and described the country as a "valued partner” and India’s "third-largest trading partner”, adding it employs over 2.5 million Indians.

Foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup told reporters on Thursday that Modi will be meeting the UAE's Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, as well as leaders from the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

They will discuss key issues including energy, trade, investment, infrastructure and security.

Modi will also meet businessmen to convince them to invest in India as part of his drive to boost the country's manufacturing sector and address a gathering of more than 40,000 Indians on Monday in the Dubai Cricket Stadium.

"I specially look forward to meeting the large community of Indian workers based in UAE. No words will be enough to appreciate their hard work and sweat over the last many years,” he said in a statement on his Facebook page, adding that the UAE’s economic success was based on the "hard work and sweat of over 2.5 million Indians”.

While Modi usually tours multiple countries during foreign trips, on this occasion the UAE will be the only country he visits.

Some, including independent analyst Mustafa Khan, believe the trip is part of a "balancing act" before he travels to Israel later this year.

"In foreign affairs, Modi has emerged as a master strategist. He doesn’t want to pursue India’s decades-old doctrine of alignment with a set of countries,” Khan said, adding that Modi’s foreign trips are designed to seek more direct foreign investment for India.

Khan added that the trip could help Modi with internal politics, especially with upcoming elections in the state of Bihar.

"A sizeable number of the Indian diaspora in the UAE consists of Muslims from Bihar. The gathering on Monday will give the PM a direct opportunity to understand their problems in the region,” Khan said, adding the event is bound to have some effect back home.

C. Raja Mohan, a leading Indian foreign policy analyst, said India has for years neglected the UAE and Gulf region despite its proximity and importance as a trading partner.

"Neither the Gulf nor the larger Middle East figured on Modi’s itinerary during his first year in office,” Mohan wrote in the daily Indian Express on Tuesday.

"The oil-rich Gulf remains the main source of India’s growing hydrocarbon imports. It is home to more than six million Indian expatriate workers. They send remittances worth nearly $50 billion every year. With [their] large foreign currency reserves, the Gulf kingdoms are also potentially a big source of investment in India’s infrastructure,” he said.

"Within the Gulf, the UAE looms large. It hosts about 2.6 million Indian workers. Bilateral trade with the UAE peaked at $73 billion in 2013 but has since declined to around $60 billion."

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Last Modified: 2015-08-16 12:59:04
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