India, Saudi discuss ports-rail project, local currency trade

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India will be connected by railroad under a multinational Middle East-South Asia rail and ports corridor that was announced on the sidelines of a G20 summit over the weekend, an Indian foreign ministry official said on Monday.

The multinational rail and ports deal with the United States, Saudi Arabia, India, European Union, United Arab Emirates as members will link the Middle East to South Asia and is being viewed as a counter to China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.

During Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's state visit to New Delhi on Monday, India and Saudi Arabia also discussed the possibility of trading in local currencies and expediting the negotiations for a free trade agreement between India and the Gulf Cooperation Council of which Saudi Arabia is a member.

Ausaf Sayeed, a secretary in the Foreign Ministry, the two countries signed eight agreements on Monday, including a pact to upgrade their hydrocarbon energy partnership to a comprehensive energy partnership for renewable, petroleum and strategic reserves.

Saudi Arabia is been among the top exporters of petroleum to India.

They also agreed to create a joint task force for $100 billion in Saudi investment, half of which is earmarked for a delayed refinery project along India's western coast, Sayeed said.

Talking about the interconnectivity between India and the Gulf countries, Sayeed said that it will include ports, railways, better roads and also power, gas grids and optical fiber network.

During their talks earlier in the day the Indian leader and the Saudi crown prince also discussed cooperation in space, semiconductors and collaboration in defence manufacturing as well.

(Reporting by Shivam Patel, Krishn Kaushik, editing by Ed Osmond and Angus MacSwan)