United Arab Emirates foreign trade minister Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi is calling for the creation of a free-trade agreement between Gulf countries and India to further enhance trade between the two regions.

Speaking at the third Arab-India Partnership Conference in Abu Dhabi, Al Qasimi pointed out that bilateral trade between India and Arab countries surpassed US$144bn in 2011, and that the India-Middle East corridor is expected to grow by 34% by 2013.

“Given that it is the second-most populous country in the world with an enormous consumer base of over 1.2 billion, India is definitely among our priority partners moving forward,” she said.

She added that India and the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) would benefit from increasing foreign direct investments (FDIs), which could be achieved with the creation of a free-trade agreement. “It would be ideal for both our parties to reach a free-trade agreement that can further increase and expand our bilateral FDIs. We should also work on initiatives to fully optimise our business and investment partnerships, such as boosting the frequency of our delegate visits, removing some non-tariff related barriers, and expanding our trade beyond traditional exports and imports,” Al Qasimi said.

From the UAE’s perspective, the minister renewed a commitment to enhance its commercial relationship with India – the country’s first trade partner with bilateral trade value over US$44bn last year, and urged Indian investors to support the SME sector.

“For our part, the UAE is fully committed to maintaining its status as India’s single largest foreign trade partner,” Al Qasimi added, pointing to the 300% growth in trade relations between the two countries over the past five years.

The minister hailed the progress in Arab-India trade relationships accomplished in the past few decades, which she attributed to India’s economic liberalisation after 1990 and its subsequent surge in demand for energy supplies.

“We aim to sustain the momentum through mutual cooperation in sectors such as infrastructure, manufacturing, oil and gas engineering, mining and mineral-based industries, tourism and hospitality, healthcare, financial services, agriculture and food processing, and education and the labour force,” she concluded.