New Delhi, April 13 (IANS) With growing demands for oil and gas and uncertainty looming over supplies from sanctions-hit Iran, India has sought to deepen energy ties with Qatar. The main focus of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani's three-day visit to New Delhi early this week was deepening cooperation in the energy sector.
Apart from normal trade, the two countries agreed to promote investments in both upstream and downstream oil and gas projects.
This is crucially important from India's energy security point of view. Qatar, a tiny country located in the northeastern coast of Arabian Peninsula with a population of just 1.7 million, has the world's third-largest natural gas reserves after Russia and Iran. Qatar also has the sixth-largest oil reserves in the Middle East and one of the highest per capita incomes.
Qatar is going to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and has bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.
With an annual production capacity of 77 million tonnes a year, Qatar has now become the biggest exporter of liquified natural gas (LNG). The Gulf state has developed its downstream and upstream oil and gas projects mostly with the help of North American and European firms like Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and French energy firm Total.
Despite cordial political relations, geographical proximity and a large Indian diaspora presence, Indian business involvement in Qatar is negligible.
Indians are the largest expatriate community in Qatar. Of the total 1.7 million population, over 500,000 are Indians.
"As of now it seems there is relatively low interest among the corporate houses and high net worth individuals of either country for opportunities in the other country," said Kurian Kuriakose, managing partner of Doha-based Morison Menon Chartered Accountants.
Kuriakose said the main reason behind low business engagement is the lack of information, which results in missed opportunities.
With annual imports of 7.5 million tonnes, India is one of the biggest buyers of Qatari gas. India also imported 5.6 million tonnes of crude oil from Qatar in 2010-11 and has been asking the Gulf country to increase gas supply by at least 3 million tonnes a year.
No decision on additional gas supply was taken during the Qatari ruler's visit because of continued differences on price.
However, during the visit Qatari authorities were also focused on exploring investment opportunities in India.
Hussain Ali al Abdulla, executive director of Qatar Investment Authority, the Gulf country's sovereign wealth fund, said the authority would target to invest at least $10 billion a year in India.
The Qatar Investment Authority, one of the richest sovereign wealth funds that invested almost $30 billion globally last year, has an insignificant presence in India. The authority's investment in India is around $500 million, mostly in stocks.
Abdulla said despite the prospects of high returns, the Qatar Investment Authority has not made any significant investments in India due to lack of understanding of the business. "I don't understand the business environment very well here," said Abdulla, who was a part of the high-level delegation that accompanied Sheikh Hamad on his third state visit to India from April 8-10.
During the visit, India and Qatar also agreed to increase cooperation in the areas of education, legal affairs, banking, cultural and tourism. The two countries signed six pacts to enhance cooperation in these fields.
The Qatari ruler's visit followed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Doha in November 2008. Singh is the only Indian prime minister to have visited Qatar.
(Gyanendra Kumar Keshri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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