Biden’s IMEC Plan: Bold Vision or White Elephant?

US-Backed IMEC: A Potential Game-Changer or Just Political Posturing?

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

At the G20 meeting in Delhi on September 9th, President Joe Biden of the United States declared the United States’ plan to establish an Iron and Maritime Corridor (IMEC) that would connect India, the Middle East, and Europe. Previously, it was known as the Arab-Mediterranean Corridor. The White House website contains a memorandum of understanding that states the International Maritime Economic Council (IMEC) aims to promote economic growth by extending linkages and increasing integration between Asia, the Persian Gulf, and Europe. The project will feature two corridors: the eastern corridor will connect India to the Persian Gulf in the United Arab Emirates by water, while the northern corridor will go from the UAE through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel before continuing to Greece by sea. The eastern corridor will connect India to the Persian Gulf in the United Arab Emirates.

Along the proposed railway path, lines will be installed to deliver electricity and digital communication, as well as pipelines for the transportation of green hydrogen, which will be produced from water using renewable energy. The agreement states that the corridor will secure the region’s supply chains while making commercial exchanges between the participating countries more straightforward. In addition, the United States provided funding for creating a road connecting the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia to the port of Lobito in Angola. This route would transport copper and other metals essential to the green economy’s growth. At the moment, Chinese companies hold a dominant position in the extraction of these metals.

This undertaking has all the hallmarks of a political objective, and it’s not only because of the enormous quantities of money that will have to be spent on brand-new infrastructure. It is essential to consider not only the cost but also the limitations that the present facilities impose. The infrastructure of the railways in the Middle East is poor, while in Europe, only approximately 18% of the commodities are transported via rail lines. Even if geopolitical considerations are not considered, creating infrastructure will require several years of planning.

It is still being determined what benefits can be expected for the participating nations because they already use the Suez Canal, and it is more convenient to operate with sea channels in general. Some countries might seek assistance from other countries to develop their land-based infrastructure simultaneously. The project’s anticipated cost of around $20 billion makes it far smaller than China’s “Belt and Road Initiative.” 

From India’s point of view, the simple announcement of intent to carry out such a project is a huge accomplishment for India’s “Act West” policy towards the Middle East. This policy is aimed at improving India’s relationship with the region.

At the same time, India has had difficulties with the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC), which links Iran, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Due to New Delhi’s acquiescence with Washington’s unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic, this project has encountered difficulties. Furthermore, the current tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran can further postpone the NSTC by rendering it politically unviable. This is especially the case given that Azerbaijan takes the position as Pakistan does over the Kashmir Conflict, which irritates India. India also can build a branch corridor of the NSTC through Armenia and Georgia, which would take them to the EU through the Black Sea.

The distance from Kochi, India, to Piraeus, Greece, is approximately 7,167 kilometres when travelling by water and about 9,756 km by road. At the same time, the quickest time for transporting goods by sea between India and Greece is ten days, while the standard time for transporting goods via road is approximately five days and four hours. Because of Economies of Scale and other factors, shipping by sea is almost always more cost-effective than shipping by land.

Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Angola are not clients of either China or the United States. They intend to pursue a multi-vector strategy, so they may be interested in joining the Western initiative. Some African nations, such as Zambia, are experiencing deteriorating relations with China, and the United States is attempting to capitalise on this situation. Due to the disparity in the infrastructure development of the region’s countries, the prospects for the African corridor are still dim.


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