Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is on her first bilateral visit to India since she assumed office in July after the tumultuous post-Brexit vote period. She chose India because both the nations are “natural partners” and the potential in Indo-UK ties is tremendous.
On Monday, May and Prime Minister Narendra Modi jointly addressed the India-Britain Tech Summit. While May applauded India’s help in diversifying Britain’s economy through investment, Modi mentioned sectors where London can help New Delhi — affordable healthcare, technology and academic quests.
Both the nations are likely to issue a joint statement later on Monday and going by the last four statements that India and Britain have released, cooperation and more focus on education, trade and technology are likely to feature in the statement.
May and Modi are expected to talk more on boosting trade and investment. While some reports claim that Brexit has created a “challenging period of uncertainty and adjustment”, others claim that Britain’s economy is booming.
According to a report by Sky News, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that the UK economy grew by 0.5 percent in the three months after the Brexit vote.
Nevertheless, economic and strategic ties have been at the centre of talks since 2004 when the two sides underscored their commitment to the strategic partnership. Both the nations have been cooperating on multiple fields like education, research, science and technology, climate change among others.
May and Modi’s meeting and joint statement is expected to revolve around similar topics with a particular focus on trade. Britain has been looking towards the opportunities that Brexit has presented and delivering an economy that works for all, not just a select few.
After the divorce with the European Union, Britain can break certain trade and investment barriers to secure agreements once the UK has officially left the EU. Post-Brexit, Britain will also have to diversify its trade partners and unilaterally forge stronger relationships with countries around the world.
India is just the first step in that direction. May might have chosen India for her first bilateral visit because India invests more in the UK than in the rest of the EU combined, and the UK is the largest G20 investor in India.
Both the sides noted in 2008 about the need to improve market access through liberalisation and facilitating movement of professionals. The then Britain Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh had also welcomed the progress made in the negotiations between India and the EU for a broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement.
India and Britain have continually agreed on seeking a substantial increase in trade and investment. The largest British delegation visited India in 2013.
In 2010 and 2011, trade grew an average of 23 percent. India became the fifth largest investor in the UK and Britain became the third largest investor in India in 2013. A protocol of the Double Taxation Avoidance Convention (DTAC) was modified to simulate the flow of investment, technology and services between India and the UK.
This remains the focus of the India-Britain statement on Monday because the significant decrease in trade since 2011. The total trade between India and Britain was $1,074 million for 2011-12 but it has reduced to $855 million in 2015-16. May and Modi might address this significant decline in trade between the two countries during the meeting.
May also announced a first-ever easier visa regime for Indian businessmen that will come with swifter passage through British airports and access to EU. She said the businesses will have to fill fewer forms, and they would get access to the EU-EEA (European Economic Area) passport control and swifter passage through British airports.
Apart from trade and investment, Indian students are hoping for a positive outcome of the discussion in terms of post-study stay. According to the Ministry of External Affairs data, the number of Indian students going to the UK has dwindled from 29,900 in 2011-12 to 18,320 in 2014-15. This is partly because of stringent visa norms and strict rules on post study work permit.
The post-study work, abolished in 2012, allowed students to work in the UK for two years after completing their course and earn some money before returning to their home country.
The UK now only allows a maximum stay of four additional months at the end of courses of duration of one year or more. The students can still work after their course if they have a specific job offer and follow tough rules on the salary criteria. Students are looking forward to a positive outcome of May-Modi talks. While inaugurating the summit on Monday, Modi said “Education is vital for our students. We must encourage greater mobility and participation of young people in education and research opportunities.”
Both India and Britain have reaffirmed their commitment to supporting the Afghan government in the stabilisation and rebuilding of Afghanistan. They have also recognised that the main threat to Afghanistan’s security and stability is terrorism, which also endangers regional and global peace and security.
With the growing threat of terrorism, specifically from Islamic State, it is pertinent for Britain to look for partners after separating from the European Union. In this vulnerable state, it must attempt to establish ties with countries around the world.
The movement of migrants from France to the UK has also posed a major challenge for the country. France has been rattled by terrorist attacks in recent months and this movement of migrants invokes fear of a spill over in Britain. It might even make Britain more vulnerable to attacks.
Cooperating with India, a country itself battling terrorist attacks, might benefit UK at a hostile time. Both the countries have always recognised terrorism as a global threat requiring a global response. Britain has called upon Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks.
Britain might just lend that extra support to isolate Pakistan even more and help India.
Both the nations have a lot to gain from each other. The talks between Modi and May on Monday might open new avenues in various sectors, which will further deepen the relationship between India and Britain.