Blair, who flew in to New Delhi late on Tuesday from Beijing, laid a wreath at a memorial to Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi before a meeting with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh as part of the annual EU-India summit.

Blair, accompanied by his wife Cherie and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, on Wednesday threw two handfuls of red rose petals onto the simple black marble memorial to the hero of India's independence struggle in the gardens where he was cremated in 1948.

Singh said on Wednesday that India had approved the long-delayed purchase of 43 planes from European aircraft maker Airbus Industrie for state-run Indian Airlines for $2.2 billion.

"Our government has announced today the purchase of 43 Airbus aircraft worth $2.2 billion," he said after talks in New Delhi with Blair and Barroso.

Senior trade and business officials from India and the EU, New Delhi's largest trading partner, met at a city hotel to discuss ways to boost trade and enhance security cooperation.

Enhanced agreement

Joining Blair at the talks with Singh set to start later would be Barroso and EU foreign policy high representative Javier Solana, officials said.

Britain holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

EU officials say the sixth EU-India summit will endorse a political declaration for "enhanced engagement" between Brussels and New Delhi "on all issues of mutual concern".

The EU is fast becoming India's
largest trading partner

It will also see the signing of a so-called action plan setting out the way forward in political, trade and investment, economic, and cultural and academic relations.

"The European Union and India know and show that they matter to each other more than ever before," said Barroso late last week as he prepared to join Blair on his tour of India and China.

"With our ambitious action plan we will be able to jointly work against terrorism and build up a security dialogue. We will be able to meet common environmental challenges and strengthen our two-way trade and investment."

"Based on our joint values, on our shared commitment to freedom and democracy, we will forge an ever-closer relationship and make the strategic partnership a huge success."

Special interest

Blair - accompanied by some 40 British business leaders - is to stay on in New Delhi on Thursday to meet Indian investors before joining Singh for more talks at the cool Himalayan hill station of Shimla.

"The European Union and India know and show that they matter to each other more than ever before"

Jose Manuel Barroso,
European Commission president

Britain retains a special interest in India, the jewel in its erstwhile empire, and remains the third-largest investor in its growing economy and its fourth-largest trading partner.

Trade in goods and services between the two nations stands at nearly $10 billion (8 billion euros) a year, according to British figures, representing a big chunk of the 30 billion euros a year in India-EU trade.

There are one million Britons of Indian descent, 16,000 Indian students attend British schools and universities, and 900,000 people travel between the two countries every year.