India and Qatar on Sunday signed seven agreements, including on investment and tourism promotion, as the two sides discussed ways to take bilateral ties beyond the current normal trading relationship.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led delegation-level talks with the Qatari leadrship, as well as holding restricted meetings with Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani and Qatar Prime Minister Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Thani.
“The main issues that were discussed, first of course, the Indian community's welfare. The Prime Minister thanked them (the Qatari leadership) for taking care of them (Indian community) plus their security and their general welfare,” Amar Sinha, Secretary (Economic Relations) in the Ministry of External Affairs, said at a media briefing here following the day's official engagements.
“Second issue of critical importance was how we could partner together in investments and go beyond this trading relationship,” Sinha said.
Though Qatar was the largest source of LNG for India, both sides felt that the time has come to move beyond the trading relationship and get into strategic investments, he said.
“So a lot of sectors were discussed,” he said.
“The key sectors we felt from our perspective were railways, agro-processing, solar energy, and also even defence manufacturing.”
Sinha said that apart from these key sectors, the two sides also discussed opportunities in India like the railways bond, smart cities, and asset reconstruction and possibilities of getting FDI into these sectors.
On the political front, according to the Secretary, both sides expressed happiness at the level of high-level visits with Modi coming to Qatar just 14 months after the Emir's visit to India.
“But both sides felt that there is a need to raise the level of annual consultation and so in principle we have decided to form what we call high-level committee both for follow-up and review as well as for charting the path forward,” Sinha said.
The issue of security and terrorism also came up for discussion.
“They also realised that terror does hold a threat for both of us,” the Secretary said, adding that Qatar was part of India's extended neighbourhood.
The welfare of Indian workers and the problems they face also came up for discussion.
“Basically the problems are contractual,” Sinha said but added that part of the problems lie in India too as recruiting agents have to checked.
Of the 630,000 expatriate Indians in Qatar, many are blue collar workers involved in the gulf country's construction sector.
Sinha said issues of the workers' welfare, how they lived, the arrangements made for them and their security were also discussed at length.
Following the delegation-level talks, seven agreements were signed between the two sides in the areas of investment, skill development and entrepreneurship, tourism cooperation, health, financial intelligence sharing, mutual assistance in customs matters, and youth and sports.
The two countries also issued a joint statement in which both sides agreed to address the menace of global terrorism through a comprehensive approach to stop flow of foreign terrorists, dismantle terrorist infrastructures and counter-terror propaganda through internet, among other things.
Earlier on Sunday, Modi also met a group of top Qatari business leaders and invited them to invest in India.
India's Ambassador to Qatar Sanjiv Arora said there were 20 top investors in the meeting from diverse sectors like construction, real estate, infrastructure, financial services, and hospitality.
“The Prime Minister really gave the floor to them,” Arora said.
“They really appreciated that here was the leader of the world's third largest economy in purchasing power parity terms who was listening to them very carefully and taking on board their perceptions and then giving them first hand information on all the far-reaching initiatives.”
The Ambassador said the investors had much appreciation for several progressive changes made in India.
Following Sunday's delegation level talks, Sheikh Tamim hosted a lunch in honour of the visiting dignitary.
Modi later called Father Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, here.
He also addressed the Indian community at a reception organised by the Indian Ambassador during which he said that the whole world was attracted to India for its economic progress and praised the Indian diaspora for their achievements.
The Prime Minister, who arrived here from Afghanistan on Saturday, visited a health camp for Indian workers soon after his arrival.
He left Qatar for Switzerland on Sunday on the third leg of his foreign tour which will also take him to the US and Mexico.