India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, a new locus of global power

Subhasish Mitra (Wide Angle)

IMEC, or the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, is the most ambitious multi-national and multi-regional geo-economic and geo-strategic project that India has ever signed on to. A rail and shipping corridor that will connect India to Europe through West Asia, it has the potential to deepen physical connectivity, unlock tremendous commercial opportunities, set new standards in infrastructure financing and development, and reshape global trading routes.


But the logic of the project goes way beyond the economic case for it. IMEC is an attempt to show the world that China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) isn’t the only game in town and, if countries so choose, they do have a choice when it comes to their development models. For India and the United States, it is a way to counter China. The first-of-its-kind economic corridor will be a historic initiative on cooperation on connectivity and infrastructure involving India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, EU, France, Italy, Germany, and the US.


The precise route map of the corridor will be figured out when the stakeholders meet in the next two months. But a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) unveiled on the sidelines of the G20 leaders’ meeting in New Delhi shed light on its broader contours — a transit through India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Europe. The proposal also includes a new railway line across the Arabian peninsula, with cables for electricity and digital connectivity and pipes for clean hydrogen running in parallel.


In essence, the project will have multiple components — an east corridor connecting India to the Arabian Gulf by sea, a northern corridor linking the Gulf to Europe, and deployment of rail and road linkages on its land section -- a part-sea, part-land trade corridor with transshipment facilitation in between.


The IMEC has the potential to reduce trade time between the EU and India by 40 pet cent, which will be a significant boost in reducing energy costs and increasing trade. The corridor will act as a green and digital bridge, linking key commercial hubs, enabling production and export of clean energy, expanding power grids and telecommunication networks.


"This will be critical to boost India’s economic growth, while balancing its climate ambitions,” says India’s G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant. Once the project is complete, Indian exporters to Europe will likely gain both in terms of time and cost. This isn’t the first time it’s happening -- some 2,000 years ago, maritime trade between ancient India and the Roman empire took shape, a route which survived and flourished in the subsequent centuries.


Discoveries of Roman coins across India’s west coast bear testimony to these ties. The question is — can the proposed IMEC be called an evocation of the past, rivalling the Silk Roads, a set of ancient trade routes that linked China to Europe and many parts of the world?


In the words of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, "The India-Middle East-Europe corridor will become a basis of world trade for the coming centuries and history will remember that it was envisioned in India." To drive home his point, he recalled the "Silk route", an ancient trade corridor used by India when it was a prosperous and great trading power.


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