New Delhi: Ambitious plans for a corridor linking Europe, the Middle East and India were unveiled today on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Delhi. It aims to link Middle East countries by railway and connect them to India by port, helping the flow of energy and trade from the Gulf to Europe, US officials have said, by cutting shipping times, costs and fuel use.
“We all have reached an important and historic partnership,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the launch event of the ‘Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment’ and ‘India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor’ during the G20 Summit.
The corridor deal hopes to integrate India’s vast market of 1.4 billion people with countries to the west, offer a counterbalance to lavish Chinese infrastructure spending, boost Middle Eastern economies and help normalise relations between Israel and Gulf Arab states.
The move comes amid US efforts for a broader diplomatic deal in the Middle East that would have Saudi Arabia recognise Israel.
One proposed project would link railway and port facilities across the Middle East – including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel – potentially speeding trade between India and Europe by up to 40 percent, news agency AFP reported.
“This is a real big deal,” said US President Joe Biden at the launch event, calling the plan “historic”.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the so-called India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor was “much more than ‘just’ a railway or a cable”.
Plan Aligns With US Goals
Some officials, according to AFP, say the United States is keen to see the projects take flight as it aligns with several of Washington’s goals.
US involvement could also help mend deeply damaged ties between Riyadh and Washington, which frayed after the US-Iran nuclear deal and the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
According to details seen by AFP, the economic corridor would develop infrastructure to enable the production and transport of “green hydrogen”.
All the projects could also help oil-soaked Middle Eastern states wean their economies off dependence on fossil fuels.
A Counter To China?
The project comes at a critical time as Biden seeks to counter China’s Belt and Road push on global infrastructure by pitching Washington as an alternative partner and investor for developing countries at the G20 grouping.
The so-called BRI has spread Chinese influence, investments and commerce across Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Michael Kugelman, South Asia Institute director at The Wilson Center, said the plan could be a significant response to China’s much-vaunted Belt and Road Initiative.
“If finalised, it would be a game changer that strengthens connectivity between India and the Middle East and would aim to counter BRI,” Kugelman posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
A memorandum of understanding for the deal was set to be signed by the European Union, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the US and other G20 partners.