International Relations

The Importance Of The Minilateral Grouping

In July 2022, India, Israel, the United States (US), and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced the formation of a new minilateral grouping called the I2U2 at a hybrid summit. The four countries see their partnership as ad hoc, informal, issue-specific, and geoeconomic initiative.

Background information: The I2U2 forum

  • Following the Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE, I2U2 was established in October 2021 to address the region’s maritime security, infrastructure, and transportation challenges.
  • At the time, it was known as the International Forum for Economic Cooperation. The new grouping was dubbed the ‘West Asian Quad’ at the time by the UAE.
  • As the Accords made it easier for Israel and its Gulf neighbours to interact more, other partners such as the United States and India have found it easier to engage with the region through plurilateral forums.
  • I2U2 prioritises economic strengths over political differences, leveraging mutual cooperation by leveraging India’s growing economy, Israel’s technical expertise, the UAE’s capital, and the United States’ international clout.
  • I2U2 meetings investigate B2B relations and establish the I2U2 Business Forum; proposal to establish a ‘I2U2 Hub’ in the UAE as an ideation centre for forming economic partnerships and sharing intellectual property profits.

The Importance of I2U2: Personal Reasons for Joining the Group

For India:

  • I2U2 strengthens India’s strategic engagement with West Asia and its robust bilateral relationships with the UAE, Israel, and the United States.
  • In 2022, India’s total trade with the UAE will be worth US$ 73 billion, making the UAE India’s third largest trading partner. The UAE is also India’s second largest export destination, accounting for 40% of total trade with the Arab world.
  • Israel is a major supplier of defence equipment to India and a key technology partner in a variety of fields, including defence, space, agriculture, and cybersecurity.
  • The United States is India’s largest trading partner and second-largest foreign investor, with bilateral trade expected to reach US$119 billion in 2022 and investments accounting for 18% of total Foreign Direct Investment.

For Israel:

  • From Israel’s perspective, I2U2 is a continuation of the Abraham Accords and a new opportunity to build a platform on which it can combine old partners (the US and India) with new partners (UAE) through a broader economic and strategic partnership.

For UAE:

  • The Emiratis believe that such a grouping, with a focus on complementarities, will aid in the resolution of global challenges such as food, energy, and water security.
  • The UAE is all too familiar with these challenges, given its own food and water scarcity, with an annual rainfall of only 100mm and importing 85 percent of its food supplies.
  • The UAE also sees I2U2 as a platform that can help it strengthen bilateral ties with the other three countries while positioning itself as a bridge between West Asia and South Asia.

For the United States:

  • Following the Abraham Accords, the grouping is a low-hanging fruit through which it can cultivate bilateral and multilateral relationships with its allies and partners, particularly in the West Asian region.
  • This also aids the US in containing China’s growing presence in the region, particularly in the areas of investment, innovation, and technology.
  • The United States’ participation also demonstrates that it has abandoned its traditional strategic and security lens and now views the world order through a trans-regional and multilateral lens.

What distinguishes this forum?

  • Economic cooperation: Unlike other forums such as the Quad, Negev Forum, and AUKUS, the I2U2 is a regional forum focused on economic cooperation.
  • Water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security have been identified as six core sectors for intervention by the I2U2.
  • The grouping envisions a proactive role for private capital and technology, with the goal of collaborating on joint investments, resource mobilisation, and new initiatives.
  • The following global issues have been prioritised: The grouping food security and clean energy prioritises two key global concerns with local, trans-regional, and long-term dimensions.

Project for a Food Corridor

  • I2U2’s Food Security Project Responds to the Global Hunger Crisis: I2U2 aims to combat the global hunger crisis by leveraging member countries’ financial, technological, agricultural, and knowledge strengths.
  • For example, the project will use Israeli and American technology to establish integrated food parks in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, with future expansion plans for Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra.
  • The overarching goal is to establish alternative supply chains: The initiative’s overarching goal is to establish alternate supply chains among countries with similar goals in order to ensure environmentally sustainable food security.

Project for hybrid renewable energy

  • Gujarat Renewable Energy Project: I2U2’s second project aims to build a 300 MW hybrid renewable energy facility in Gujarat using advanced battery storage technology developed with Israeli expertise and Emirati and American investment.
  • Strong Interest in UAE-India Renewable Energy Partnership: Companies based in the UAE, such as Masdar, are interested in collaborating with India to explore renewable energy opportunities, particularly given India’s goal of achieving 500 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity by 2030.

What are the Potential Difficulties?

  • Security Interests May Pose Difficulties for I2U2: Individual countries may prioritise their own security interests over the interests of others.
  • For example, US and Israeli perspectives on West Asia are influenced by Iranian rivalry, whereas India and the UAE may have a different perspective. While these security concerns have not yet hampered the project, the unpredictability of Iran’s situation could pose a challenge.
  • The US and India are concerned about China’s growing presence in the region through trade deals, infrastructure investments, and security cooperation, whereas Israel and the UAE have a more positive view of China, with the UAE upgrading its ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and Israel engaging in defence and technical cooperation with China, respectively.
  • Institutional bottlenecks may impede I2U2: Institutional bottlenecks could be a potential stumbling block for the I2U2 project, as there may be a lack of synergy in the working cultures of businesspeople from the four countries, and accountability mechanisms may be ambiguous.

The stakes are high in India

  • India’s participation in I2U2 is critical because of its role as a link between West Asia and South Asia.
  • The initiative has the potential to attract investments, innovation, and technology to India, accelerating its progress towards becoming the world’s third largest economy.
  • I2U2 can also help ‘Make in India’ by attracting manufacturing facilities in fields like artificial intelligence, fintech, transportation, and space.
  • India can designate nodal officers in its embassies and form a Coordinating Committee with the sherpas to facilitate cooperation.
  • I2U2 could also inspire India to form similar minilateral groups with its South Asian and African partners.

@the end

Minilaterals like I2U2 offer hope for more effective and mutually beneficial international cooperation as an alternative to the poor performance of most multilateral institutions. Such platforms can serve as a solid framework for exploring opportunities, assisting in the collective resolution of global challenges, and opening doors to greater convergence of interests and actions among countries.

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