India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor set to be a game changer; Turkey’s exclusion likely to create disputes

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Even though an agreement has been signed for the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) involving India, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, and Israel plus 10 countries in Europe for transit of goods and services, Turkey that has been excluded from it, is seeking to establish an alternate transit project called Iraq Road Development Initiative project involving Iraq, Qatar, and the UAE and the first phase of the project is to be completed by the end of 2028.

By Our Correspondent


NEW DELHI – The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), for which an agreement was signed on the sidelines of the recent G20 Summit in New Delhi, is set to be a game changer for India’s connectivity for transit of goods and services, but Turkey’s exclusion from the massive infrastructure project is likely to create disputes. Turkey has already proposed an alternative to the corridor.


The IMEC will directly link India with four countries in the Middle East – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel – and 10 in Europe – Cyprus, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany – through sub-sea high-speed data cables, railways, energy infrastructure and shipping lines. It will provide India an unprecedented access to global markets.
The new 4,800-km trade route is intended to stimulate economic development and integration. It will have two separate routes, comprising an east corridor linking India to the Arabian Gulf and a northern corridor connecting Gulf states to Europe. The rail and sea route will enable not only the transit of goods and services but also electric and digital connectivity, as well as pipes for the export of clean hydrogen.

The corridor provides alternative trade routes to the thriving markets of the Middle East and Europe and extends India’s reach to North Africa and North America. The ship-to-rail transit system is expected to slash shipping costs and expedite transit times. While creating a global value chain, the IMED will pave the way for clean energy and digital innovation. It will be instrumental in stimulating economic growth, creating jobs, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


The IMEC was unveiled by U.S. President Joe Biden and other G20 leaders with the signing of a memorandum of understanding by the European Union, France, Germany, India, Italy, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the U.S. Biden described the IMEC as a major project which will contribute to making the Middle East a more prosperous, stable and integrated region.
In a larger context, the U.S. will be interested in early implementation of the project because of its potential to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with which Beijing’s influence in the Gulf and greater Middle East has been growing. A framework in which the U.S., India and Israel work together to challenge China’s geo-economic clout will be of great significance for all three countries.

For Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the IMEC represents a diversification of partnerships beyond their roles as energy producers. It will strengthen a growing economic and strategic convergence between India and the Middle East. In view of the IMEC’s eight signatories accounting for about half of the world’s economy, the trans-continental project will also have geo-political implications.


According to the observers based in the Middle East, the IMEC will seek to enhance trade and infrastructure connectivity across the Eurasian rimland and reshape the balance of power in the region. On the other hand, China’s multi-trillion-dollar BRI, adopted in 2013, seeks to recreate the ancient Silk Road and connect it to South-East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, Russia and Europe.


As the IMEC bypasses Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pushed back against the project and declared that there can be no corridor with the exclusion of Turkey. Turkey, which is a part of the BRI holds the position of a major transit hub for commodities travelling from Asia to Europe. Erdogan has started negotiations to find a substitute for the IMEC while affirming that the most appropriate route for trade from East to West must pass through Turkey. More geo-strategic concerns are at stake for Turkey in the present scenario.


Erdogan told journalists on his return flight from India, where he attended the G20 Summit from September 8 to 10, that Turkey was an important production and trade base and had a long history of serving as a link on the silk pathways. Erdogan said he was aware of many countries looking to expand their influence through the creation of trade corridors.
Ankara backs the Iraq Development Road Project, which is a corridor connecting the Gulf with Europe through Turkey. The Turkish President revealed that discussions were held with the Gulf countries regarding an agreement on the Iraq Development Road Project during the G20 Summit.


“We are talking about a corridor to Europe through Iraq, Qatar, the UAE and Turkey,” the Hurriyet Daily News quoted Erdogan as saying.


At present, all trade between India and Europe takes place via the sea route, which passes through the Suez Canal controlled by Egypt. Egypt, which could lose revenue if the Suez Canal is bypassed, may also raise objections to the IMEC. Although Egypt was one of the special invitees at the G20, and Egyptian President Abdel Fateh al-Sisi was the chief guest at this year’s Republic Day parade in New Delhi, it was not among the countries that signed the MoU for the project.
A study has been conducted to establish the extent of already existing and under-construction railway lines in the Middle East cutting across UAE and Saudi Arabia while missing links have been identified, which will need fresh construction. The Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, has a huge role in IMEC where a railway corridor is being proposed to be built. Indian experts involved in the project’s formulation have opined that a lot of work will be required to ensure a seamless connectivity on the corridor.

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