BY | March 5, 2012

By Gyanendra Kumar Keshri

New Delhi, (IANS) Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, one of the world’s richest monarchs and whose tiny country of barely two million people has the world’s highest per capita income, is expected to visit India soon, with export of gas, of which his country is the largest exporter, and investment high on the agenda, officials said.

“The Qatar emir’s visit is very much on the agenda. It is expected to take place in the next couple of months. We are working out the schedule,” R. Ghanshyam, joint secretary (Gulf) at the Ministry of External Affairs, told IANS.

He said the Qatari ruler will be accompanied by a high-level delegation and many big deals are likely to be signed. India’s bilateral trade with the country grew four-fold in five years from $1.2 billion in 2005 to $4.6 billion in 2010.

This will be the first visit of the Qatari ruler to India in seven years. Sheikh Hamad, who deposed his father to become emir in 1995, visited India in May 2005. He had also visited New Delhi in April 1999.

A senior official at the Qatari embassy here confirmed that the visit was likely to take place soon, but added that the schedule and other details were being finalised.

The Qatari ruler’s visit follows Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Doha in November 2008. Singh is the only Indian prime minister who has visited Qatar, a small country located in the northeastern coast of the Arabian peninsula.

Qatar, which possesses more than 15 percent of the world’s proven gas reserves, has emerged as the biggest exporter of the hydrocarbon. India is among its biggest buyers, with annual purchases of 7.5 million tonnes.

In fact, India has been requesting additional supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar to meet its growing energy demands and possible disruption of supply from sanctions-hit Iran. It also bought four million tonnes of crude last year.

During the visit Sheikh Hamad is likely to make commitments to increase gas supply. Apart from the political engagements, exploring investment opportunities will also be on top of the agenda of Sheikh Hamad’s visit to India, officials said.

According to the US-based Forbes magazine report, Sheikh Hamad — who was educated in Britain’s Sandhurst Military Academy — is the world’s eighth richest monarchs with a personal wealth of $2.4 billion.

He has introduced several reforms and transformed Qatar from a pearl-fishing centre to one of the richest countries in the region. It now claims the highest per capita income in the world — an astounding $1 million.

Officials said the Qatar Investment Authority, the emirate’s sovereign wealth fund, was looking for investment opportunities in India.

Sovereign wealth funds of the Gulf region have invested heavily in the US and European countries. Due to economic slowdown, returns on their investments in the US and European countries have been far below their expectations. (IANS)

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