David Cameron yesterday urged India to open up its markets in areas like insurance and banking to British companies, as he led a 100-strong trade mission to the emerging economic giant.
Mr Cameron said that Britain was “incredibly welcoming” to inward investment by Indian firms in historic names like Jaguar and Tetley Tea, and was making it easier for Indian business people and students to come to the UK.
But he said the process must “go both ways” and called on Delhi to sweep away barriers to trade which he said were antiquated and were holding back development in the country.
Mr Cameron has made developing trade with new economic powers like India a key foreign policy priority since coming to power in 2010.
And his decision to assemble the largest trade delegation ever to travel with a Prime Minister was a signal of his intent, as was his decision to return to India for the second time in just two and a half years in office.
But he also took time out to enjoy some of India’s cultural delights, taking part in a game of cricket with local youngsters at Mumbai’s Oval Maidan recreation ground, and talking about his plans to enjoy a Kerala fish curry and watch Bollywood movies on his flights.
Speaking on the first day of his visit, Mr Cameron revealed he was talking to the government in New Delhi about the prospects for a “corridor of development” between Mumbai and Bangalore, featuring new towns and infrastructure, which could provide opportunities for British planners, architects, construction firms and private finance experts. Britain could provide £1 million in funding for a feasibility project for the scheme.
He announced the introduction of a new “same-day” visa service for Indian business people, in response to unhappiness with the current system which can take three days or more to process applications.
And he said there was “no limit” to the number of Indians who would be allowed to study at UK universities and stay on in graduate-level jobs after they qualified.
Speaking to workers at the Mumbai headquarters of the Anglo-Dutch Unilever group, Mr Cameron said: “Britain is one of the most open, easy-to-invest-in countries in the world. We are incredibly welcoming.
“I am very proud of the fact that it is an Indian company, Tata, that makes the Jaguars and Land Rovers that are taking the world by storm. They also roll most of our steel and own Tetley Tea – and you don’t get any more British than Tetley Tea. I am very proud of that. Britain is an open economy and we encourage that investment.
“I think, in return, we should be having a conversation about opening up the Indian economy, making it easier to do business here, allowing insurance and banking companies to do more foreign direct investment into the Indian economy.”
Mr Cameron is accompanied on his three-day trip by representatives not only of major corporations like BP, BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, but also small businesses and academic institutions, as well as football’s Premier League, the London Underground and nine parliamentarians.
He told his audience in Mumbai that he wants Britain’s partnership with India to be “a really special relationship” for the 21st century.