Saudi Arabia seeks liberal visa regime

New Delhi: Against economic troubles in Europe and uncertainty in the US, Saudi Arabia Today said it sees "huge potential" for stepping up commercial engagement with India. However, Saudi Arabia which is home to two million Indian workforce, asked the Indian government to relax visa rules to boost bilateral trade and investment.

"We are eager to do more trade with India. Huge potential is present in both the nations as both are emerging economies," Saudi Arabia Commerce and industry Minister Tawfeeq Bin Fouzan Al Rabea said at a FICCI meeting here. Al Rabea, who is leading a 35-member business delegation, said there are opportunities for bilateral engagement in sectors like infrastructure, IT and education. With economic troubles affecting the entire Eurozone and the US economy giving uncertain indications, Saudi businesses are looking at India as an alternative investment and trade option, industry officials said.

Al Rabea urged the Indian Government to liberalise visa norms for its people. "… what I heard from some of our colleagues that they get only one month with single entry visa (from Indian Embassy in Saudi Arabia). So, I think, we need to do something here and there, to make sure we facilitate the movement of people between the two countries," Al Rabea said.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia gives multiple entry visa for one year. The visiting minister said that about two million Indians are working in different sectors in Saudi Arabia. The bilateral trade has increased by about 60 per cent to USD 25 billion in 2010.

Addressing the gathering, FICCI President-elect R V Kanoria said that Saudi businessmen can explore investment opportunities in areas like bio-technology, telecommunication and automobile. "Huge investments are required in infrastructure sector in India. India is going to invest as much as USD one trillion in next five years," Kanoria said.

India`s exports to Saudi Arabia mainly comprises Basmati rice, meat, man-made yarn, cotton yarn, chemicals and machinery. Imports largely include crude oil, as India imports a quarter of crude requirement from Saudi Arabia. "There is big sale of oil to india…Our bilateral trade is increasing and I see this growth continuing and I see more potential for cooperation and trade," the Saudi minister added.