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Blair, India ready for business

September 06, 2005 15:06 IST
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With its economy strong, military power growing and diplomatic clout increasingly formidable, India welcomes British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday with hopes that his visit will help bring closer economic and political ties with Europe.

Rather than looking, however, for a helping hand from Britain and the European Union, as might have been the case a decade ago, India comes to the talks ready to find out how it and Europe can enrich each other through more investment, trade and energy cooperation.

"There is a clear attitude change toward India, which is reflected in Britain treating India as an equal partner," said Charan Wadhwa, a trade analyst at Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. "There is a realization that India has arrived on the scene."

Blair, who is also the current EU president, will spend two days in the country, taking part in an EU-India summit and holding talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India is clearly a confident nation at the top of its game; its economic growth is pegged at 7 percent this year, its first aircraft carrier is being built, and a seat on the United Nations Security Council is in the offing.

As a sign of that confidence, Indians are rethinking their history with Britain, from which they won independence in 1947.

Dr Singh said in July that Britain's rule of India was not all bad, noting the British established a free press, professional civil service and universities.

It was a bold statement in a country where British colonizers have long been viewed as plunderers, and Singh was sharply criticized by leftists and Hindu nationalist opponents.

Blair's visit is a chance to showcase the new India, and find ways in which India and the EU can work together.

During the visit, India and Britain plan to announce a deal to increase the number of flights between the two countries and to allow expansion of investment in one another's film-making companies.

The visits were expected to generate about £2 million (about $3.7 million) of new business for EU cmpanies. European business leaders, such as British American Tobacco chairman Jan du Plessis and Rolls-Royce PLC chairman Simon Robertson are accompanying Blair.

Britain is the third largest investor in India and in recent years, Indian firms have also emerged as important investors in Britain. India was the eighth largest investor in the UK in 2004.

"Britain has played a healthy role in stimulating trade and investment with India," said Chandrasekhar Dasgupta, a former Indian ambassador to the EU. "It is this leadership which Britain brings to the European Union's current talks with India."

Also attending the EU meetings are European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU trade chief Peter Mandelson.

India, for its part, is looking for European expertise and investment in improving its infrastructure and gaining access to clean energy supplies. Analysts say the two areas are where India needs the most help if its economy is to maintain its strong growth.

India is also keen to join a cutting-edge international project to develop a nuclear fusion reactor, which could eventually supply clean energy.

"There needs to be collaboration in research and development effort to come up with new, clean technologies," Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran told journalists recently, expressing India's interest in participating in the US$5 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor.

India will also press Britain to ease visa rules for Indian professionals traveling to Britain, said an Indian official who did not want to be identified. Britain fears easing of visa rules will lead to an increase in illegal immigrants.

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