Friday, October 29, 2010

India economic ties get British PMO priority

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London October 29, 2010

Following Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to India in July, his office is seeking a monthly report on the progress in strengthening the bilateral economic relationship. This is possibly the first time the PM’s office is asking for a monthly progress report on the UK’s business relationship with a particular country.

The report has been sought from UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), a government body that helps British companies trade internationally and assists foreign ones to bring investment here.

Though the details of this report are not available, a good part of it will come from the UK India Business Council, the lead organisation in this regard. UKIBC is financially supported by UKTI.

Confirming this, a spokesperson for UKTI said, “The PM has placed great emphasis on our relationship with India, and the visit in July was only the beginning. He, and the coalition government (here), are clear that this was not a flash in the pan, and that sustained effort and commitment will be needed to build a wide-ranging relationship for the 21st century.”

Adding: “The Prime Minister, therefore, takes a continued interest in the ongoing engagements with India, and we ensure he is fully and appropriately apprised of these. He is very keen to see that this renewed focus and effort translates into real results for UK and Indian businesses.”

India focus
The present coalition government, since it got into power in May, has been stressing on stronger economic ties between Britain and India. In the Queens’s address to the two Houses of Parliament on May 25, India was the only country mentioned in terms of Britain’s bilateral relations. The Queen’s Speech (delivered to the first session of Parliament each year), written by the government, said, “My government looks forward to an enhanced partnership with India.” India was also the first emerging market Cameron visited after becoming PM.

Since September, UKIBC has also got a new CEO, Richard Heald, formerly vice-chairman of Rothschild India, who has pledged to improve economic ties with India.

During the 13-year Labour government that ended in May, the economic relationship with India fell. In the past 10 years, Britain has slipped from being India’s fourth biggest source of imports to the 18th position. Foreign direct investment from Britain into India has fallen steadily in the past five years, though India Inc was aggressively active in Britain during this period.

As part of an effort to boost economic ties, UKIBC has identified six segments to work on. These includes skills & vocations, retail & supply chains, infrastructure, advanced engineering, health & life science and digital control.

Earlier this week, addressing a gathering of business leaders at the CBI annual conference, Cameron reiterated his stance on India. “Last year, the share of UK exports to China and India was just 3.2 per cent. Indeed, the UK exports more to Ireland than to Brazil, Russia, India and China – combined. These are shocking figures,” he said.

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