Jordan the pivot to India's west Asia push
India's diplomatic relations with Jordan have improved tremendously under Modi. The focus is now shifting to improving and expanding bilateral trade.
India's relations with Jordan, the only Hashemite kingdom of the Arab world, has been a story of fits and starts. The two countries established diplomatic relations in 1950 and have through the years maintained cordial terms that has never hit a low nor reached a crescendo. India was generally too busy looking after its own neighborhood while Jordan had its hands full in its own vicinity to really care about a country that was almost 5,000 kilometers away. Starved for natural resources and without the oil that makes middle east such a strategically important region for the world, there was little of mutual interest for India and Jordan. That was until Narendra Modi took over as India's prime minister in 2014. With a broader vision to look beyond the immediate neighborhood, Modi's administration landmark “Look West” policy--there is also a parallel Look East policy for South Asia, has an arc that stretches well beyond the gulf nations and onto Jordan. It was with this in mind that Modi visited Jordan in 2018 in what was the first visit by an Indian prime minister to the country in almost three decades.
The Modi impact
As he has done with so many other world leaders, Modi immediately struck a personal rapport with King Abdullah. That overnight stay at Amman was officially described as no more than a transit visit but King Abdullah who provided Modi with a military helicopter to ferry him to neighboring Ramallah the next morning, described it as “the beginning of a new chapter in bilateral ties.” He followed it up with a visit to India of his own within a month.
The twin visits bestowed greater dynamism to bilateral ties and relations have been on an upswing ever since punctuated with regular high level meetings between the two sides. Last week, the third round of foreign office consultations was held virtually co-chaired by Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary (CPV & OIA) and Yousef Bataineh, Secretary General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of Jordan through video conference on 16 December 2020.
The meeting touched upon significant growth in cooperation in the fields of defence and security, including counter terrorism, trade and investment, ICT, tourism, education and culture. India lauded the role of the Aqaba Process in facilitating regular, comprehensive dialogue on counter-terrorism among global stakeholders.
Diplomacy aside, bilateral trade has also started looking up in the last few years.
View to better trade engagements
Historically, trade ties have also followed the overall pattern of fits and starts and though India is Jordan′s fourth largest trade partner after Iraq, Saudi Arabia and China, it has never grown consistently between the two nations. In 2011-12, it grew robustly to cross $ 2 billion for the first time at $ 2.3 billion only to decline the following year to $ 1.9 billion. The following two years, trade grew again to well over $ 2.2 billion.
That was also the time, when India's then President Pranab Mukherjee made his trip to Jordan, the first ever by an Indian head of the state. A joint venture project worth $ 860 million between Jordan Phosphate Mines Company (JPMC) and Indian Farmers Fertilisers Cooperative (IFFCO) was also inaugurated while Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation (MMTC) India Ltd signed an MOU with JPMC on cooperation in the fertilizer sector. That bonhomie however, also did not last long as trade stuttered again to less than $ 1.5 billion in the next two fiscals.
The target of achieving $ 5 billion trade by 2025 seemed like a distant dream then but the situation has brightened up off late. Fiscal 2020 saw rapid expansion of trade volumes and bilateral trade has again breached the $ 2 billion mark. To ensure that momentum is not lost this time, the two sides have agreed to diversify the trade basket currently dominated by a limited range of commodities - fertilizers in case of Jordan's exports and electrical appliances, textiles, automotive parts, and meat products for Indian exports. It has also been agreed to convene the 11th India-Jordan Trade and Economic Joint Committee and India-Jordan Joint Business Council meetings on an early date.
In the post pandemic world, if India manages to build on the momentum of 2019-20 and achieve the $ 5 billion target in this decade, it would also edge ahead of China which traded goods worth $ 3.2 billion with Jordan in 2018. That would be a small but significant development in the context of the region.