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.
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:
Food security: The UAE – home to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and host of COP28 in 2023 – will invest $2 billion to develop a series of integrated food parks across India that will incorporate state-of-the-art climatesmart 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. The proposed food parks that are being talked about have a set of objectives.
One of them is, 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 harmonise the food safety and quality standards? Besides harmonisation, 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.
Clean energy: The I2U2 Group will advance a hybrid renewable energy project in India’s Gujarat State (Dwarka) consisting of 300 megawatts (MW) of wind and solar capacity complemented by a battery energy storage system. The US Trade and Development Agency funded a feasibility study for the $330-million 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.
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. It may be noted that the idea of the I2U2 Summit was conceptualised 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. 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.
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.