RIGHT ANGLE – QUAD’s COMPANION
On July 14, a highly significant regional arrangement, focusing on West Asia or the Middle East, was launched. The Heads of Government of India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States, convened for the first leaders’ meeting of what was said to be the “I2U2” Group. Though this was a virtual summit, it brought together the Prime ministers of India and Israel (I2) – Narendra Modi and Yair Lapid — and the Presidents of the US and the UAE (U2), Joe Biden and Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan.
Some experts consider the new initiative as a companion project to the QUAD, a four-way partnership joining together Australia, India, Japan and the United States that was founded partly in response to growing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific.
I2U2 has been highlighted as a joint endeavour, broadly aimed at encouraging joint investments in six mutually identified areas – water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security.
The inaugural I2U2 leaders meeting focused on the food security crisis and clean energy. The four leaders discussed innovative ways to ensure longer-term, more diversified food production and food delivery systems that can better manage global food shocks. To this end, the I2U2 leaders highlighted the following initiatives:
The UAE – home to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and host of COP28 in 2023 – will invest $2 billion USD to develop a series of integrated food parks across India that will incorporate state-of-the-art climate-smart technologies to reduce food waste and spoilage, conserve fresh water, and employ renewable energy sources. India will provide appropriate land for the project and will facilitate farmers’ integration into the food parks. U.S. and Israeli private sectors will be invited to lend their expertise and offer innovative solutions that contribute to the overall sustainability of the project. These investments will help maximize crop yields and, in turn, help tackle food insecurity in South Asia and the Middle East.
The proposed food parks that are being talked about have a set of objectives. One of them includes, through these food corridors, how do you reduce trade barriers between the economies of the I2U2, how do you, and this is a very important factor – how do you harmonize the Food Safety and Quality Standards? Besides harmonization, how do you also use this as an opportunity to benchmark yourself to export the perishable food products that you would grow in this corridor and export them globally?
The project here is very specific, both in terms of trade facilitation mechanism, as also in terms of genuine exports of the food products. Naturally, the corridor would allow access to the strategic markets of the Gulf starting through the UAE, where it’s targeted. It would automatically also lead to significant job creation opportunities within India.
This would essentially be an effort governed by the private sectors involved in both the countries and the area of economic activity of Food Park will be in the state governments in India. The two Indian states here are believed to be Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh where a food corridor and food Park project would be taken up. There have also been discussions on the initial identification of what kind of food products crops would be grown there. And this initial list is not an exhaustive list, but includes things like bananas, potatoes, rice, spices, and onions. This list might expand depending upon how the activity takes place on the ground.
The I2U2 Group will advance a hybrid renewable energy project in India’s Gujarat State (Dwaraka) consisting of 300 megawatts (MW) of wind and solar capacity complemented by a battery energy storage system. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency funded a feasibility study for the $330 million USD project. UAE-based companies are exploring opportunities to serve as critical knowledge and investment partners. Israel and the United States intend to work with the UAE and India to highlight private sector opportunities. Indian companies are keen to participate in this project and contribute to India’s goal of achieving 500 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity by 2030. Such projects have the potential to make India a global hub for alternate supply chains in the renewable energy sector.
Coming back to the summit, the four leaders expressed overall their determination to leverage well-established markets to build more innovative, inclusive, and science-based solutions to enhance food security and sustainable food systems. The leaders also welcomed India’s interest in joining the United States, the UAE, and Israel in the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate initiative (AIM for Climate). They affirmed that these are only the first steps in a long-term strategic partnership to promote initiatives and investments that improve the movement of people and goods across hemispheres, and increase sustainability and resilience through collaborative science and technology partnerships.
Through this grouping, the intention of the four countries principally is to mobilize the private sector capital and deploy it for many areas of economic cooperation. The key ones of them , as Indian foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra says, are – expertise, deploy expertise to modernize infrastructure, pursue pathways for low carbon development for industries, improve public health and access to vaccines, advance physical connectivity between the countries in the Middle East region, jointly create new solutions for waste treatment, explore joint financing opportunities, connect Indian start-ups to I2U2 investments and also look at opportunities in the space of FinTech. In the FinTech sector, Prime Minister Modi particularly highlighted the importance and the doability of expanding the UPI payment system across to the I2U2 areas.
It may be noted that the idea of the I2U2 Summit was conceptualized during the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the four countries, which was held on October 18 last year. Since then, the Sherpas of the I2U2 countries have been very intensely engaged not only in shaping the substantive content of the discussions for their heads of government on July 14 ( incidentally, the virtual summit took place when President Biden was visiting Israel last fortnight).
Secondly, the cooperation within the I2U2, among the I2U2 countries and for India, each country in the I2U2 is a strategic partner. Though the officials labour to explain that this cooperation, its direction, its principal economic orientation, stands on its own merit, and is to be taken as such and not in the context of any other country( meaning China), the summit did talk of the economic and political threats arising out of the “hedging” strategy adopted by some countries. Targets were clearly Russia and China, particularly the later as it has broken the global supply chains in many areas.
Thirdly, though the inaugural I2U2 summit was dominated by economic themes, the I2U2 as a grouping is not devoid of security concerns. In fact, during their foreign ministers’ meet in October, maritime security of the region figured prominently. In fact, the UAE’s Ambassador to India Ahmed Albanna had termed the I2U2 as the “West Asian Quad”. He had said, “The newly formed West Asian Quad between the UAE, India, Israel and the US is an offspring of the Abraham Accord…”, the Accord which led to the normalization of relations between countries like the UAE and Israel and talked of peace, security and stability in the region.