A flourishing friendship that has withstood the test of time
For much of the 18th and 19th century, Kuwait, with its natural harbor, its pearl diving and seafaring heritage, and its strategic location at the northern end of the Arabian Gulf, was an important trading port. Kuwait in its own unique manner developed strategic partnerships and engaged in mutually beneficial business practices with countries far and wide, principal among them being India.
Even before the period when Kuwait and India were conjoined as constituents of the British empire, a highly lucrative trade flourished between the two countries. Merchants from Kuwait, sailing their dhows propelled by the gusting monsoon winds arrived at ports along the western coast of India. They brought with them dates, pearls and other sea products in exchange for spices, textiles and every other necessary commodity in Kuwait. Many of them sailed back on new ships built by Indian craftsmen using local wood, sail-cloth, anchor ropes and navigational tools made by Indian artisans. Having to spend a considerable time in India engaged in trade, or as their new ships were being built, or until prevailing monsoon winds became favorable, many Kuwaiti merchants set up families and businesses in India and made the country their second home.
This shared history of strong business ties and familial lineage, then a major component of Kuwait-India relations, was further cemented during the colonial era. In the sea-saw battle by European powers, contending for domination, control and pre-emption around the world, British India extended its reach to the Gulf region through the protection treaty signed between Great Britain and Kuwait in 1899.
For the next many decades, political and economic interests of strategic importance to the British Empire overshadowed and dominated all other relations between Kuwait and India. It was only after British domination ended with the independence of India in 1947 and Kuwait in 1961 that relations were brought back on an even keel. Following independence the ties between Kuwait and India were further reinforced, through visits and discussions by leaders and officials of both countries on issues of common interest and means of strengthening bilateral relations in all spheres.
India and Kuwait not only share a historical affinity, cultural empathy and buoyant mutual trade, we also share democratic values, religious tolerance, equal opportunities, an open media, free and fair elections and, yes, a fractious parliament. Farsighted leaders at the helm in both countries have a clear appreciation of international economic trends like globalisation and its trade practices, of global advances in information technology and of changes driven by a knowledge based economy.
Both India and Kuwait are also aware of their youthful demographic dividend, and the enormous potential for trade to create strategic partnerships around the world. Both countries are also conscious of the fact that geographical size alone is not a guarantee of economic prosperity, and, nor is it a constraint to creating economic opportunities.
In today’s globalised world and liberalised economic environment, any country given the right fundamentals can become a center of economic activity. This realisation has allowed both countries to provide new direction and impetus to their economies by opening up their markets and embracing changes consistent with international practices. Also, to ensure inclusive growth for its people both countries have renewed their emphasis on economic development by reinvigorating the private sector, widening their industrial base and generating additional venues and opportunities of employment for its youth.
India has consistently been among the top-ten trading partners of Kuwait. Bilateral trade in fiscal year 2018-19 which stood at US$8.76 billion marked a 2.7 percent year-on-year growth. Of this trade, Indian exports totaled $1.33 billion while imports stood at $7.43 billion, mainly oil and its derivatives. Indian exports to Kuwait included food items, cereals, textiles, garments, electrical and engineering equipment, ceramics, machinery and mechanical appliances, cars, trucks, buses, tyres, chemicals, jewelry, handicrafts, metal products, iron and steel, and others.
To Kuwait, India is not only a major trading partner, Indians also account for the largest expatriate community in the country. By the end of 2020, the size of the Indian community in Kuwait reached almost a million contributing to the economic growth of Kuwait.
Given the strong historical ties and trade links between Kuwait and India and the people to people contacts, Kuwait and India share a relationship that is both unique and special. Among the many areas that could be developed to take the relationship to the next level are: accelerating institutionalised and strategic consultation mechanisms, fostering better business to business interactions, facilitating joint research and academic cooperation in scientific, technological and healthcare fields, supporting human resource development and training in medical, educational and defense spheres, as well as promoting trade exhibitions and cultural exchanges through regular events in both countries.
There are also a number of areas where Kuwait and India could cooperate to confront the challenges facing them bilaterally and on the international arena, including the environment, agriculture, human resources and their shared concerns for security and stability in the region. Focussing on the economic dimension alone, it soon becomes apparent that there is enormous potential for the two countries to work towards their mutual benefit. Kuwait, situated at the vanguard of a hinterland teeming with a young and vibrant population yearning for change and economic prosperity, could become a production hub for many knowledge-based industries and a platform for value additions to medium and small enterprise sectors in the region.
Besides the substantial scope for joint venture partnerships in innovative businesses, collaboration with its skilled manpower and exchange of technical and managerial expertise, India also offers Kuwait one of the best investment platforms in the world. India, the fourth largest global economy in terms of purchasing parity power and the seventh largest country in size, is a market of a billion plus people with a seemingly insatiable demand for goods and services. In addition to its size and large population, India also has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Kuwait’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, which is among the largest in the world, will find India an ideal investment destination. With strong financial fundamentals, robust legal framework and a booming economy propelled by intrinsic growth brought on mainly by consumption and capacity demand, there are very few places in the world with investment potential as promising as India.
As the two countries remain poised to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations, it bears remembering that the destinies of Kuwait and India are inter-linked by centuries of historical ties, close geographic proximity, strong cultural affinity and an open and broadminded viewpoint that embraces diversity and pluralism. The overarching vision that Kuwait and India have for a future is also defined within the shared parameters of peace, stability and economic prosperity, democratic values and a global outlook. To ensure a stable and secure regional environment and continued economic prosperity for its people, Kuwait and India must consciously work towards nurturing and developing these strategic relations that have epitomised their interactions for centuries.
The Times Kuwait Report