India-UAE Maritime Link: First Step of IMEC Project Begins

Nine months after the announcement of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) project, efforts are underway to operationalize the first leg between India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The initial phase focuses on harmonizing procedures for voyage, vessel, and customs-related clearance between three ports on India’s western coast—MMundra, Kandla, and Nhava Sheva—aand two in the UAE, Jebel Ali and Fujairah. India has set a 100-day deadline to complete this process.

The goal is to ensure that once a document is uploaded at the Indian ports, it will be accepted by port authorities in the UAE without the need for re-submission. This seamless exchange of documents will be facilitated through a virtual platform, effectively creating a free trade zone and improving ease of business.

The second stage involves aligning customs procedures between ports on both sides. Although shipping routes between Indian and UAE ports are active, they are not yet seamless, requiring clearance at both ends. Multiple steps are being planned in phases to streamline port-to-port operations.

The IMEC project, launched during the G-20 Summit in New Delhi, involves transit by sea between India, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, followed by a rail link to Jordan, then sea transit to Turkey, and further rail transport to Europe. A study by Rail India Technical and Economic Service Limited (RITES) will identify missing rail links between Saudi Arabia and Jordan, assess investment needs, and set timelines for completion.

Once shipments reach Israel’s Haifa port via rail from Saudi Arabia to Jordan, they will continue to Greece’s port of Piraeus and onwards to Europe. This rail link is a critical component of IMEC, as it allows cargo to bypass the Suez Canal, which has seen reduced transit due to attacks by Houthis. Currently, 37% of India’s trade with Europe uses the Suez Canal.

Officials from various Indian ministries have been meeting to discuss India’s role in IMEC. A joint working group comprising stakeholders from external affairs, commerce, shipping, railways, and customs departments has been formed to finalize details. While the entire IMEC corridor is not yet operational, the first leg is planned to be operationalized within the first 100 days of the Modi government.

India is also enhancing the capacity of its western ports to support export-import cargo. The Union Cabinet has approved a proposal to develop a Rs 76,220 crore deepwater port at Vadhavan in Maharashtra’s Palghar district. This port, located five kilometers north of Mumbai, will be the biggest container port in India in terms of capacity and draft. It will link to the IMEC, supporting three existing ports on India’s western coast: Nhava Sheva, Kandla, and Mundra.

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