With trade ties that date back centuries, India is planning a significant presence at Dubai’s Expo 2020.
India’s pavilion and accompanying plaza building will be located in the expo’s Opportunity district, and are set to be retained after the event closes in 2021, creating an imperative for the structure to deliver not just a bold, impactful message, but also a lasting architectural statement.
At the outset, Expo visitors will be left with no uncertainty as to the identity of the space thanks to a towering statue of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi at the entrance to the building. The facade of the structure will be wrapped in lush green skin to provide a visual statement evoking the environment, humanity’s connection to nature and the spiritual nature of certain exhibits inside.
With $68m set aside for the project, construction work began on the Indian country pavilion in August 2019, with India’s Minister of Commerce, Industry and Railways Piyush Goyal unveiling the design in September.
The project is being co-ordinated and funded by the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and the Indian government, with additional contributions from several Indian businessmen in the UAE. National Buildings Construction Corporation is responsible for the design and construction, and awarded the main construction contract to UAE-based City Diamond Contracting in July 2019.
Themed the future is in India, the pavilion will provide a platform for various Indian states to promote advances in technology and innovation over the course of the six-month expo. “We will showcase India’s role and achievements in a range of sectors, [including] sustainable development, renewable energy, IT, education, space, defence, artificial intelligence and startups,” says Vipul, India’s Consul General in Dubai.
The pavilion will also feature programmes on spirituality and wellness, in line with India’s traditional practices of yoga, meditation and Ayurveda, as well as cultural performances, crafts and cuisine.
“The India pavilion will be very different from the other pavilions,” says Vipul. “This is because it will highlight India’s history, diversity and achievements. It will also illustrate the dynamism of the India-UAE partnership.”
India enjoys close diplomatic relations with the UAE and is one of the country’s top trade partners. Trade between the two nations stood at $60bn in 2018-19, and is growing fast, supported in part by a currency swap agreement in 2016 allowing bilateral trade to be conducted without the use of US dollars.
Investments in the energy sector form a critical part of this trade. The UAE is India’s fourth-largest crude oil supplier, exporting 17.49 million tonnes in 2018-19, according to India’s Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics. In a significant recent deal, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Saudi Aramco and a group of Indian national oil firms agreed to develop a $44bn mega refinery in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
Looking forward to Expo 2020, Vipul sees huge opportunity to further enhance trade and business ties. “Our leadership has set the goal of increasing our bilateral trade to $100bn and to substantially increase investments flows. Expo 2020 will provide a great opportunity for us to move ahead in realising these goals.
“Indian businesses will not only get exposure through UAE visitors, but also to those from Africa, Central Asia and other regions. The expo will be very useful for all Indian businesses that participate in it. Those that are looking for investments will get an unparalleled chance to present their ideas to an influential global audience.”
During the expo, the coordinators of the Indian pavilion also plan to hold special celebrations for the duration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights and on the date of Indian Republic Day.
“The UAE, in particular Dubai, holds a special place for Indians, whether on account of our trade, investments or remittances from workers,” says Vipul. “Our strategic partnership is growing every day. [The expo] will provide a platform for India and all Indians to build further upon this relationship.”
Building on history
Even before diplomatic relations were officially established in 1972, spices and cloth from India found their way to the Arab tribes, in exchange for dates, pearls and fish from the UAE. India’s cultural nuances have influenced many Emirati tastes, from food and films to clothing and language. Today, Indian migrants comprise nearly 27 per cent of the country’s total population.Diplomatic relations between the UAE and India have only got warmer, with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan being hosted as the guest of honour during India’s 68th Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi. In August 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the UAE to receive the Order of Zayed, the highest civilian honour in the country.
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