London. British Prime Minister David Cameron is leading the biggest ever business delegation to India for three days of talks aimed at increasing trade between the nations.
Cameron arrived in Mumbai today with representatives from more than 100 British companies, in a visit heralding the creation of a network of government-sponsored trade offices throughout the South Asian country by 2017. As an opening salvo, Cameron said Britain will relax visa rules for business people, cutting the time it takes to clear the paperwork to one day from about three days currently.
“Britain wants to be your partner of choice,” Cameron said at Hindustan Unilever Ltd.’s Mumbai headquarters today. “We have only just started on the partnership we can build. The sky is the limit.”
Cameron spoke of his desire for a “special relationship” with India, a term usually reserved to describe ties with the US.
“I think the basis for that special relationship and partnership is absolutely there,” he said in broadcast interviews in Mumbai. “This is going to be the third-largest economy in the world by 2030 and I want to make sure it is British firms that are helping to build those hospitals, construct those roads, provide those universities, and we want a real exchange between our countries.”
Cameron wants to revive Indian interest in the Eurofighter Typhoon, the next generation of jet fighters made by BAE Systems Plc, as authorities in New Delhi continue talks to buy 126 Dassault Aviation SA Rafale planes from France.
The prime minister’s office said on Feb. 15 that he won’t give up on hopes of selling the Eurofighter to India. The Rafale contract wasn’t signed during French President Francois Hollande’s Feb. 14 to 15 state visit to the country.
Intercontinental Hotels Group Plc, Brit Healthcare, Ashok Leyland Ltd. and Hinduja Global Solutions are among companies that will announce deals during the trip.
The British government has identified eight areas where companies can make commercial inroads, including infrastructure, finance, health care, education and defense.
With Cameron are leaders from Standard Life Plc, HSBC Holdings Plc, BP Plc, Serco Plc, Rolls Royce Plc, accountants KPMG, De La Rue Plc and Arup, the engineering consultants. Cameron will be joined by four government representatives including universities minister David Willetts and trade minister Stephen Green as well as nine lawmakers from both chambers of parliament.
With economies in Europe struggling, Cameron said Britain needs to boost exports to developing nations such as India. “I am a great believer that you have got to fill up airplanes with business people, get out to these fast-growing countries and sell your country as hard as you can,” he said.
From Mumbai, Cameron travels to New Delhi tomorrow to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee. He will push for greater access to the Indian market, particularly in the insurance industry and will seek to help move forward an EU-India free-trade agreement.
Cameron will also seek to reassure Indian leaders that Britain will remain a member of the European Union, saying that skepticism among Conservatives and the electorate needs to be tackled.
“The reality is that people were already questioning Britain’s commitment to the EU,” Cameron said in an interview with the Hindustan Times. “What we need to do is tackle this issue head-on and agree a changed settlement.”
Efforts to tighten controls on students coming to Britain from nations like India will also be discussed. Cameron told the Hindustan Times “there is no limit to the number of students who come from India,” provided they have a place at an established university and speak English.
He said there’s also no cap on the number of students who can stay and work in Britain in a graduate job.
“There’s more we can do here, and that’s an area where I hope we can put an even more attractive offer on the table during this trip,” the prime minister said, without giving more details.
Cameron also announced that the British government will work with Indian counterparts to develop a 1,000 kilometer infrastructure corridor between Mumbai and Bangalore.
The British government and companies will assist in building nine districts “matching British expertise up with the dynamism of India’s commercial sector,” Cameron said.