Johnson and Modi ‘set to Zoom in on trade issues’ Anuj Chande
Radhakrishna N S
By Amit Roy
ALTHOUGH prime minister Boris Johnson has had to call off his trip to India twice this year because of the Covid situation, Indo-British trade and bilateral relations are in remarkably good shape despite the pandemic, informed sources have told Eastern Eye.
“It’s surprising, but encouraging,” said Anuj Chande, corporate finance partner and head of the South Asia Group at the global accounting firm, Grant Thornton, which was scheduled to publish its much anticipated annual India meets Britain Tracker report on Thursday (22).
“There hasn’t been a better time to talk about the strengthening of ties between India and the UK,” he told Eastern Eye.
Chande gave one example why there was reason to be reasonably upbeat: “The fact is that in 2020, there were 10 acquisitions by Indian companies into the UK, despite the pandemic, despite Brexit. India will continue to look to invest in the UK.”
He explained why India had bucked global trends: “I think it’s either the deals that were already in progress and consummated subsequently, or there are strategic, good reasons – rationales – why those businesses (taken over) will still survive and are important post pandemic. They are not affected by Covid, as such.”
Officials on both sides have been working towards an ambitious “Roadmap 2030 for future relations”, he said.
“The 2030 vision is for revitalised and dynamic connect between people; re-energised trade, investment and technological collaboration; enhanced defence and security cooperation and closer engagement on regional issues – including the Indian Ocean region and the Indo-Pacific. The India-UK partnership in climate action, clean energy and health care is geared for mutual benefit and a better world.”
Johnson himself expressed his regret at having to cancel his visit: “Narendra Modi and I have basically come to the conclusion that, very sadly, I won’t be able to go ahead with the trip. I do think it’s only sensible to postpone, given what’s happened in India, the shape of the pandemic there.
“And I just want to stress that … the relationship between the UK and India is of huge importance. I’ll be talking to Narendra Modi, we’ll be trying to do as much as we can, virtually,” he said.
“Of course, it will be frustrating, but we’ll try and replicate as much as we can remotely, and then look forward to doing it in person as and when circumstances allow, hopefully before the COP summit in November. Hopefully we’ll get Narendra Modi over for the G7 in June.”
Chande said the prime minister had initially intended visiting Delhi, Chennai and Pune, where the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India, is based. The company has entered into an agreement with AstraZaneca to produce the Oxford vaccine.
A briefing note from the Indian government stressed: “India-UK successful collaboration in the Covid-19 mitigation efforts over the last year has emerged as the silver lining in the bilateral relationship.”
On what Britain expected from the relationship, Chande said: “What Britain is hoping to get is continuance of investment in the United Kingdom post Brexit. That is most important for Britain. And I guess also to collaborate a lot more on some of the key industry sectors that have been identified – digital, defence, technology, telecoms, healthcare, food and drink, life sciences, advanced manufacturing and chemicals.”
For India, getting “entrepreneurial visas sorted out” was one of the issues. It is pressing for greater mobility and a more liberal migration policy.
Although travel has not been possible for more than a year, Chande echoed what Johnson said: “We are adjusting to Zoom because both countries are used to doing business on Zoom. Deals are happening, conversations are happening, despite not being able to travel.”
Despite the pandemic, a number of British ministers, among them international trade secretary Liz Truss, foreign secretary Dominic Raab and Foreign Office minister Lord Tariq Ahmad have all visited India.
Both sides have recognised the crucial role that will continue to be played by the British Indian community. Its size is routinely underplayed at 1.5 million – the true figure is, at least, 2.5 million.
According to the Indian government, “the significant Indian diaspora in UK – the ‘living bridge’ – continues to lend its strength to further deepening of the close partnership between the two countries.
“The Indian diaspora remains one of the most economically productive and academically resourced communities in the UK. There exists a wide acknowledgement and appreciation of the positive contribution of the Indian diaspora in the UK.”
Chande said a “free trade agreement” is some way off, said but there could be sector by sector agreements.
The Indian government has set out its vision: “In the post-Brexit engagement, the UK has been working on securing, as an initial step, an ‘enhanced trade partnership’ with India and moving towards a possible bilateral free trade agreement in the future.
“The bilateral trade and investment flows have witnessed a steady and sustained growth in recent years. India and the UK, as major economies, are committed to contribute and lead global post-pandemic economic recovery efforts.”