I have been asked to speak today about the UK Government’s vision for the special relationship with India. What it means and where it’s going.
First, let me say we are acutely conscious that we cannot simply state what we want and expect to get it. That’s not how a friendship works.
Instead, we want to forge a closer relationship based on shared ambitions, mutual benefits, and a dialogue that develops and evolves as we pursue common goals.
Our two countries are already bound together by many common bonds - economic, social and cultural. The UK has many citizens of Indian heritage. They have contributed hugely to our country and enriched our communities.
Our Prime Minister, David Cameron, has made it his personal mission to renew these bonds and he was proud to visit India in July, accompanied by a delegation of senior UK business leaders. Together, they represented the very best of our diverse, technologically advanced, innovative economy.
But the visit was just a start - a statement of intent, if you like, of our commitment to a new and closer partnership with India. There is enormous scope for progress here.
India’s growth rate - 9% - is making the headlines. Indian ministers speak openly about their country’s need to attract investment to ensure that growth is sustainable and productive. And - let’s face it - there are a number of visitors banging on the door. The clamour must be deafening in the corridors of power in Delhi.
At the same time, the UK has returned to growth - manufacturing output is up, and exports are contributing to the improving picture. But we know that we cannot take recovery for granted. So, as a Government, achieving sustainable, long-term economic growth is our core priority.
To secure it, we need to cut business regulation; foster competition; ensure the right environment for businesses to start up, grow, and invest; and look to improve relations with our trading partners.
Britain and India already have firm foundations to build on. Our bilateral trade has doubled since 1993, and currently stands at £11.5 billion. But we want this figure to increase substantially.
Many Indian companies are grasping the opportunities that exist here in the
UK - over 600 companies have invested here, around two thirds of which are in the ICT and software sectors. That’s no surprise, if you consider that around 20% of India’s IT revenues come from the UK.
Overall, Indian firms have invested an estimated £9 billion in the UK - more than 50% of India’s total investment in Europe.
I also heard recently that five Indian companies had listed on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM index in just ten weeks. At the same time, Initial Public Offerings by Indian companies on the London markets have raised $2.3 billion this year.
I think this shows that, for Indian companies looking to expand and grow on the global stage, the UK is the obvious base. We have a skilled and multi-lingual workforce; a working day spanning office hours in Asia and North America; and we own the international language of business.
The UK is the ideal gateway to Europe and a springboard to the rest of the world. This openness will be a crucial advantage to Indian businesses.
We are proud to be the best place in Europe to do business - we want to be the best in the world.
But this is not one-way traffic. Many major UK companies are investing in India and forging partnerships with their counterparts there.
Marks & Spencer has set up a joint venture with Reliance retail with an initial investment of £29 million.
Shoe firm Pavers England sells its products through 50 locations in 16 cities, and has invested £1.5m in a Research and Development facility in Tamil Nadu State, providing 300 jobs.
JCB has the world’s largest Backhoe Loader manufacturing facility, based in Ballabgarh in Haryana.
While engineering company, Mott MacDonald, and architects HOK International, are working on the modernisation of Delhi International Airport.
In the months ahead, UK Trade and Investment will be spearheading efforts to raise awareness among British firms of the tremendous opportunities on offer in India.
These are exciting times for UK and Indian businesses. Our economies complement one another in many respects - and that creates many opportunities for us to collaborate to mutual benefit.
Just last week, India’s IT Minister, Sachin Pilot, visited the UK with a delegation - and met a number of my ministerial colleagues, including the Chancellor. They had fruitful discussions exploring how high-tech IT firms in India and the UK can work and grow together. We need more of this kind of collaboration.
That’s why the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, will be visiting India in January, for the next round of Joint Economic and Trade Committee talks.
These discussions are a real opportunity for us to look at the issues that confront our companies as they move into new markets and do business overseas.
And the JETCO talks are an opportunity for us to identify and develop new areas of collaboration - in everything from advanced manufacturing, to higher education.
Because globalisation heralds tremendous new economic possibilities. And if we collaborate and co-operate, we can secure these benefits for both our countries.
Our strong commitment to open markets and free trade means that we are pushing hard for a successful conclusion to the European Union - India Free Trade Agreement negotiations.
Achieving an ambitious agreement by early 2011 will require real political leadership. We will need to make progress on difficult sector specific issues - on chemicals, procurement, textiles, and professional and financial services - so that both sides clearly see the benefits of the deal.
But I am confident we will get there. And when we do, Britain and India will have a stable foundation on which to build an even stronger, more open trading relationship in the years to come.
I would like to have an open discussion with you now to get your views on how we build on the friendship that exists between our two countries and forge an even closer relationship in the future. I look forward to hearing your insights.