The IMEC is also expected to strengthen Saudi-Indian relations, which have already been gaining momentum, particularly during India’s presidency of the G20.
The recently announced Saudi-backed India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) is poised to be a “game changer” for New Delhi, offering unprecedented access to global markets, according to experts.
The deal establishing the IMEC was signed by Saudi Arabia, the US, the EU, India, the UAE, France, Germany, and Italy last week and was announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the G20 Summit in New Delhi.
Spanning 4,800 kilometers, the IMEC aims to stimulate economic development and integration through two distinct routes. The east corridor will connect India to the Arabian Gulf, while the northern corridor will link Gulf states to Europe. The trade route will facilitate the transit of goods, services, and also enable electric and digital connectivity. Additionally, it will include infrastructure for the export of clean hydrogen.
Manish Mohan, senior director for international affairs at the Confederation of Indian Industry, described the IMEC as a historic agreement and a genuine game changer. He highlighted how the corridor provides alternative trade routes to the thriving markets of the Middle East and Europe while extending India’s reach to North Africa and North America.
The ship-to-rail transit system of the IMEC is expected to reduce shipping costs and expedite transit times, facilitating cross-border movement of goods and services. The project is anticipated to have a significant impact on the region by integrating it into a global value chain and benefiting multiple countries.
Subhrakant Panda, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, emphasized the transformative potential of the IMEC in revolutionizing trade, promoting clean energy, and driving digital innovation. He highlighted the corridor’s role in stimulating economic growth, job creation, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The IMEC is also expected to strengthen Saudi-Indian relations, which have already been gaining momentum, particularly during India’s presidency of the G20. The trade route is likely to enhance ties between India and its Gulf ally, the UAE, in addition to offering new opportunities for trade, energy collaboration, and infrastructure development.
Mohammed Soliman, strategic technologies director at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., noted that the IMEC signifies a deepening relationship between India and the Middle East, with the convergence of the two regions into West Asia. He highlighted the potential for economic integration and diversification of partnerships for Saudi Arabia and the UAE beyond their roles as energy producers. The IMEC underscores the growing economic and strategic convergence between India and the Middle East.
With the IMEC’s eight signatories representing around half of the world’s economy, the transcontinental project is also expected to have geopolitical implications. Soliman explained that while the IMEC aims to enhance trade and infrastructure connectivity across the Eurasian rimland, it also seeks to reshape the balance of power in Eurasia.
While comparisons have been drawn between the IMEC and China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Soliman pointed out that the IMEC offers participating countries autonomy and does not present a strict binary choice between China and the United States. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and India, all members of BRICS Plus, maintain strong ties with China. Therefore, the IMEC should be viewed as a distinct initiative that provides an alternative model for connectivity with a focus on autonomy and diversified partnerships.