Upon her arrival in India on Sunday night for a three-day visit, British Prime Minister Theresa May described the South Asian country as Britain’s ‘closest friend’, saying that her government was ready to strengthen bilateral co-operation in various sectors.
Speaking at a press conference in New Delhi, Prime Minister May said that her visit is all about “collaboration”. The visiting premier also said that she and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi decided to explore opportunities for bolstering bilateral ties in sectors, such as defence, security and trade.
When the two PMs met on Monday morning in the Indian capital, they pledged to extend co-operation in trade and green energy. During the meeting, Premier May expressed hope that Britain would soon emerge as a global standard bearer of free trade, stressing that more investment and fewer barriers to trade between the two countries would boost prosperity. “We want Britain to be the most committed and passionate advocate of free trade in the world,” she told the Indian premier.
Later, PM Modi and his guest from London told the media that India and Britain would help each other break down trade barriers. “We are helping India improve its ease of doing business, but I am determined to go further,” said May.
Meanwhile, senior officials of the two countries signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and Ease of Doing Business in the presence of the two premiers. Before signing the MoUs, they held delegation-level talks to discuss the current state of bilateral trade ties. Spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup tweeted: “Advancing business through agreements. The two leaders witness exchange of MoUs in Intellectual Property and Ease of Doing Business.”
However, Prime Minister May rejected New Delhi’s call to relax visa rules for the Indian nationals. Asked whether her government would consider relaxing tough rules to allow more Indian nationals to work in Britain as part of a future trade deal, she said that London has already one of the best schemes in the world. She further assured the top political leadership in New Delhi that the British government would speed up border checks for rich Indian businessmen in order to encourage more bilateral trade and commerce.
Before leaving for her first bilateral visit outside the UK on Sunday, Premier May told the British media that she planned to “promote the best of Britain” during her three-day stay in India. “One of our most important and closest friends has to be India – a leading power in the world, with whom we share so much history, culture and so may values, and which is led by a PM who is undertaking a far-reaching programme of reform. In other words, we are two countries with strong ties, a mature relationship and an opportunity to make that even deeper. That is why, today I will be travelling to India for my first bilateral visit outside Europe and first trade mission as Prime Minister, accompanied by a range of top British businesses, including some of our brightest small and medium enterprises,” she said.
Interestingly, British politicians and foreign policy experts have advised May to tread carefully with India, if post-Brexit Britain is to succeed. With Britain desperately seeking trade and co-operation with an economy already three times larger than the UK’s, experts have said that it becomes impossible for May to attract Indian investors by promising access to the vast European single market.
Despite admitting the fact that Britain needs India more than India needs it (in the post-Brexit scenario), they have opined that Premier May may not convince India to open up its relatively underdeveloped service sector, like banking, finance, retail and the media. Experts, who believe that Britain is strong in this particular sector, have anticipated that India may demand some meaningful concessions over agriculture and manufacturing (if the visiting PM wants to bargain with India).