Reuters | Wed Jul 28, 2010 | 2:14pm IST
British Prime Minister David Cameron tried to persuade India on Wednesday to do more business with Britain as he seeks new sources of economic growth to offset deep cuts in public spending at home. On his first visit to India since taking office in May, Cameron leads a delegation including six ministers and more than 30 senior executives from top UK firms, to show that Britain is serious about boosting economic exchanges with the Asian giant. "I want this to be a relationship which drives economic growth upwards and drives our unemployment figures downwards," he said in a speech to young Indian business leaders at the high-tech Infosys campus in Bangalore. "This is a trade mission, yes, but I prefer to see it as my jobs mission," he said. India belongs to the "BRIC" group of rapidly growing emerging economies along with China, Brazil and Russia. Cameron has often lamented that Britain trades more with Ireland than it does with all the BRICs combined and he has vowed to remedy that with vigorous pro-trade diplomacy.
Among the executives on Cameron’s plane is Richard Olver, chairman of defence group BAE Systems, who will return home with a contract potentially worth $775 million to supply 57 Hawk training jets to India’s air force and navy. A senior air force official told Reuters in New Delhi that the contract between BAE and state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd would be signed in Bangalore on Wednesday. Other business leaders visiting India as part of the British delegation include the CEOs of banking giant Barclays, infrastructure group Balfour Beatty, insurance firm Aviva and private equity firm 3i. One industry that stands to benefit from Britain’s increased economic focus on India is the civil nuclear sector. British government sources told reporters in Bangalore that London would start granting licences to its civil nuclear firms to export to India, opening up business prospects potentially worth billions of pounds.
Cameron’s coalition government says the British economy is too dependent on the public sector. It plans to cut public spending to reduce the budget deficit, which has swollen to a peacetime record, but critics say this will worsen unemployment. The coalition says private businesses should be the engine of growth, and one of its strategies is to focus diplomatic efforts on fast-growing emerging markets to promote trade. On his way to India, Cameron visited Turkey on a similar mission. "In Britain, we’re waking up to a new reality," he wrote in a column in Wednesday’s edition of the Hindu newspaper. "Economic power is shifting — particularly to Asia — so Britain has to work harder than ever before to earn its living in the world. I’m not ashamed to say that’s one of the reasons why I’m here in India."
In his speech in Bangalore, he challenged India to "take on vested interests" and further open up its markets. "We want you to reduce the barriers to foreign investment in banking, insurance, defence manufacturing and legal services — so that we can both reap the benefits," he said. With the World Trade Organisation’s Doha round of multilateral talks making little progress, Britain sees a free trade deal between the European Union and India as the next big step forward. Cameron said he was determined that such a deal should be reached before the end of the year.