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Central & South Asia

UK PM urges India to ease business rules

Leading a large business delegation, Camerons seeks wider access to foreign investment and removal of barriers.
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2013 12:07
Cameron told Indian business leaders in Mumbai that 'Britain wants to be your partner of choice' [AFP]

The UK prime minister has arrived in India with what he called Britain's biggest ever overseas business delegation for a three-day visit.

David Cameron arrived in Mumbai on Monday leading a team of more than 100 British CEOs and investors to press for deeper economic ties between the two countries which are united by their colonial history.

"I've brought with me the biggest ever business delegation to leave Britain shores and I'm really proud to be bringing them here, to meet with Indian businesses and to link up our countries," he said.

Cameron has targeted a doubling of annual bilateral trade from 11.5bn pounds ($17.8bn) in 2010 to 23bn pounds by the time he faces re-election in 2015.

"One of the cases we are going to make this week is that we hope the Indian government will continue with the brilliant work that it has begun to open up the Indian economy, to take down the barriers and to make it easier to do business here," he told Indian and British business leaders at a conference.

Speaking at a factory of partly British consumer products group Hindustan Unilever, Cameron said that "India's rise is going to be one of the great phenomena of this century" and that "Britain wants to be your partner of choice".

Delegation of executives

Among his delegation are executives eyeing moves by the Indian government to open up the retail, airline, banking and insurance sectors to foreign investors.

It also includes heads of six British universities aiming to attract students to Britain and seek partnerships in India's vast higher education market.

After business meetings in Mumbai on Monday, Cameron will fly to New Delhi for talks with Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, and Pranab Mukherjee, India's president, on Tuesday.

His pitch to India echoes similar statements from fellow Western leaders seeking to hitch their stagnant economies to one of the most dynamic regions in the world.

India's economy has slowed sharply, but is still growing at about six percent annually.

Cameron's trip comes amid a controversy over India's 2010 procurement of 12 helicopters from Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland in a $748m (560m euros) deal.

After an investigation in Italy suggested kickbacks were paid via middlemen to secure the deal, India has taken steps to cancel the contract and started its own police investigation.

Corruption scandal

Cameron is likely to face further questions about the investigation - the helicopters, for use by VIPs, are being manufactured in southwest Britain - with the Indian government keen to be seen to be acting tough on its latest problems.

The timing of the helicopter corruption scandal could therefore not have come at a worse time as Cameron seeks greater market access for British companies and more trade.

He was also expected to remind the Indian government of the merits of the part-British Eurofighter jet, which was competing for a $12bn contract until last year.

India chose France's Dassault Aviation for exclusive negotiations but the deal has still not been signed.

Indian investigators will travel to Italy as early as this week as part of an inquiry into the alleged kickbacks, a spokesperson for the Delhi-based Central Bureau of Investigation said on Sunday.

As well as trade, Cameron will use the trip to correct any misunderstandings about his government's drive to cut immigration numbers amid concerns that young Indians could be deterred from applying to study in Britain.

"There is no limit on the number of students who can come from India to study at British universities," he told the Hindustan Times in an interview.

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Source:
Agencies
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