Future-proofing the UK-India connect

Future-proofing the UK-India connect
Future-proofing the UK-India connect

A budding young British politician reviews the role to be played by the next generation of UK-India champions. Indians in the UK account for 2.3 per cent of the population and make up the single-largest visible ethnic minority population in the country. The British Indian community is the sixth-largest within the wider Indian Diaspora. Over 10,000 Indians start university education in the UK every year, many of whom then return to India, including such luminaries as Mahatma Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Anil Ambani. Data from 2015 shows that a third of work visas in the UK were granted to Indian applicants. As India continues to grow under Prime Minister Modi's leadership, and as the UK looks outward after Brexit, there is a benefit to both nations for the relationship between India and the Indian diaspora to be strengthened. The fact that the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, made India her first destination for a non-European bilateral visit shows just how important the relationship with India is to her government. The governments of the UK and India, along with businesses and organisations in both countries, can play a significant role in not only increasing cross-country trade but also in strengthening the relationship between our two countries. It is particularly important to include the younger generation as we should be working to develop long-lasting relationships and cement trading relationships for future generations. The UK is already the largest source of FDI in India amongst the G20, investing over £19 billion in India since 2000. India is now the third-largest investor in the UK economy, investing more in the UK than into the rest of the EU combined and making up a massive 31 per cent of investments in the technology and telecom sector. According to reports, over 800 companies operate in the UK, supporting 110,000 jobs. Incredibly, the fastest growing of these companies have a combined turnover of £26 billion and includes sectors such as technology and telecoms, pharmaceuticals and financial services.

Whilst this is impressive, in 2015-16, the UK was only India's 12th largest trading partner, with India doing more trade with Japan, Germany and Indonesia. We in the UK import 10 times more services from the US than we do from India, and in return, our service exports to India only account for 7 per cent of our service exports to Asia. If we strengthen and leverage our relationships, and work to support businesses in both countries to increase trade, jobs will be generated, skills developed and further trading opportunities could be created. Brexit presents a challenging but exciting opportunity for the UK and India to negotiate a fresh trade agreement and for British and Indian businesses to work more closely together and develop stronger trading relationships. Given that the EU and India have been negotiating a trade agreement for nine years, we might fare better at a bilateral level. There are also significant opportunities for the UK Government and businesses to support India as it continues its digital revolution and develops its technology sector. Prime Minister Modi has listed Digital India as among his top priorities and India's technology sector is predicted to triple in the next 10 years. UK businesses should be working hard to establish themselves as advisers, providers and partners in this space, particularly in areas where British firms are considered to be world leaders such as FinTech, cyber security and research & development. The UK and Indian governments have made significant investments into strengthening the ties between our two nations in all sectors. Some of these developments include: - Both governments have invested £120 million each into a UK-India sub fund of India's National Investment and Infrastructures Fund to encourage more investment from the City of London into India's energy and renewables market. The fund aims to raise £500 million for vital Indian infrastructure projects. - Prime Minister May announced that the UK will be investing over £160 million across 75 start-ups in India, creating jobs and delivering critical services across several states in India. She also announced an additional £20 million for a Start-Up India Venture Capital Fund which will support 30 enterprises and leverage an additional £40 million of capital from other investors. - Arts Council England has invested over £2.5 million into collaborations between artists in India and England. Bodies in Wales and Scotland have also created a range of grant schemes to generate opportunities for young artists in India and the respective countries. - The UK and India are developing a regulatory cooperation agreement to make it easier to share innovations and trends as well as to make Fintech investments in both countries easier. - Through the Government's Chevening scheme (international awards scheme aimed at developing global leaders), 8 top financial services leaders of the future will attend an 8 week course in London each year. These are great steps towards increasing trade and building relationships between the UK and India, but governments and businesses could be doing even more to help develop relationships, especially supporting the young diaspora in the UK to play a role in shaping future trading partnerships between the two countries. The British Council published a survey that indicates young Indians are attracted to the UK, especially its culture. Young, middle-class Indians ranked the UK as the second most attractive economy (out of the world's biggest 15 economies) and we should be working to strengthen this positive view of the UK.

  1. Cultural placements: The British Council launched the Generation UK-India programme in 2015. The programme offers young people in the UK the opportunity to take up short-term study and work placements in India and received thousands of applications. This programme should be expanded to offer young people the chance to interact with workers and business leaders
  2. University exchange programmes: Exchange programmes can offer an exciting opportunity for young people to learn about another country and develop links with it. Programmes such as Erasmus have been hugely successful and the UK and India Governments should work together to encourage their students to study for a term or a year at Universities in the other country.
  3. Migration cap: Remove students from the UK's immigration caps and offer them a two-year working visa - over 21,000 students from India study in the UK, injecting cash into our universities and local economies. Whilst the number of scholarships such as Chevening have increased, limited visas make the UK less attractive than it could be. By removing international students from immigrant caps and offering them a two-year working visa after graduating, we will encourage the brightest and best students from India to study in the UK and also help young people from both countries to develop networks and friendships - which would be helpful for developing partnerships during their careers.
  4. Make entrepreneur visas cheaper: A Tier 1 entrepreneur visa costs almost £1,000 for Indian citizens. If we want to encourage cross-country working, and more integration between business and start-ups, we should be encouraging talented entrepreneurs to come to the UK. This would further develop relationships between young entrepreneurs and also give a boost to the UK economy
  1. Best practice: Sharing of best practice through business exchanges and forums and encouraging business leaders from both countries to interact would mean that businesses could benefit from understanding how to increase efficiency and respond to market challenges. By supporting businesses to share trading challenges in forums, Governments could tackle challenges to make trading easier and more practical. This is particularly important for young entrepreneurs who are often leading the way with technology and new methods of working
  2. Technology and innovation: The UK is responsible for some incredibly exciting developments in technology, R&D and innovation. Governments could support businesses in both countries with a showcase event to show off the newest technology that could be applied in both countries
  3. Talented future leaders: An exchange programme should be arranged and supported by the Indian and UK governments for talented young people who are likely to become leaders in their field. This programme could run bi-annually, with a trip to India one year and a return trip to the UK the next year. The programme should be open to applications from all young people with talks by industry leaders, networking events, and discussions on how the two countries could work together in the future to encourage and foster relationships. Exchange programmes for politicians, financial sector professionals, cultural and literary artists, film stars, musicians, journalists and others could also foster a working relationship that would have societal and economic benefits.
Today's millennials will be responsible for future prosperity, policy and international relations and so steps to strengthen the trading partnership and friendship between the UK and India should include young people and empower them to take the UK-India relationship forward. An estimated 600 million people in India are under the age of 25 and a million young people in India reach employment age every month - the future, particularly in India, will be driven by the young. For the sake of soft and hard power, for the mutual benefit to our economies, and for the positive shared future that we could build together, governments and businesses should work to bind our futures closely.
Resham Kotecha is Policy Ambassador of the Conservative Party's Policy Forum.

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