Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to the UK has opened a new chapter in closer UK-India ties, with technology at its core.
When Theresa May chose India for her first bilateral trade visit as British Prime Minister, she placed a smart bet that India will be crucial to the UK's economy post Brexit. Last month, she doubled-down on her bet, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the only one of the 53 Commonwealth heads of government that had a bilateral programme during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
This prioritisation of India was wholly appropriate. As evidenced in recent UK India Business Council reports, India is already vitally important to the UK economy. These reports, which focused on the holistic nature of the relationship - trade, investment, and innovation collaborations - illustrated that bilateral trade has grown 300 per cent since 2000, Indian businesses employ 110,000 in the UK, UK businesses employing 800,000 in India, and UK and Indian companies are co-creating technologies.
This is impressive, but we're still only scratching the surface. India is a global economic power. It has a population of 1.3 billion people - half of which are under 25, an economy that will overtake the UK and France this year and which will be the third-largest in the world by 2030.
This represents enormous untapped potential. Many more UK businesses, including small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and many more UK cities and regions should be benefitting from India's growth.
In assessing the opportunities, it is perhaps natural to look at the past. But most attention must be paid to the present and the future, and those that will succeed are those that examine India with an open mind. It could be an export market, a source of imports, a source of investments, an investment destination, the base of an R+D partnership, or it could be all of the above.
In an economy as large and diverse as India's, there will be opportunities across sectors.
From UKIBC analysis, we know that this century has seen a broader range of UK companies investing in India. Advanced manufacturing and financial and professional services companies have long made up the highest percentage of UK investors in India. But education, retail, consumer goods, life sciences, healthcare, and infrastructure companies are catching up.
Here and now, there is a market in India for UK food, drink, fashion and beauty brands that can engage with the increasingly affluent, brand conscious, consuming class. IP-rich UK business will find India hungry for future manufacturing technologies and demand in digitally-focused areas like Smart Cities, cyber security, and fintech. This is a short list, and by no means exhaustive.
Of course, we will see continued strong Indian investment into the UK. Partly due to the technological complementarity, and partly because the UK is a large and growing market, with affluent consumers, a tech-rich industrial base, world-leading universities, a simple operating environment, and a demand for the skills and expertise that Indian companies can bring.
As the UK and India are natural partners, particularly in R&D-intensive industries, it is important to look beyond investing and trading and to reflect upon the ground-breaking UK-India innovation collaborations. This success is down to the interplay of governments, businesses, universities and research institutions.
The £50-million Newton Bhabha Fund, co-created by the UK and Indian governments, is stimulating UK and Indian scientific research. And there are fantastic industry to academia partnerships, for example, Tata Motors-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and the Warwick Manufacturing Group at Warwick University are opening the largest automotive R&D facility in Europe.
This Tata-Warwick example is not isolated, and there is untapped potential for UK universities, who can leverage their research capabilities to partner with Indian businesses looking to develop IP.
There are also brilliant industry-industry partnerships, for example the Rolls Royce and Tata Consultancy Services partnership that is applying Internet of Things (IoT) knowhow to expand Rolls Royce's manufacturing capabilities.
So, when Theresa May and Narendra Modi met with the UK-India CEO Forum in April, it was right that they celebrated the scale and holistic nature of the existing relationship. It was also right that they focused on how the relationship needs to evolve.
We at the UK India Business Council have been advocating an evolution, so we were delighted to see a range of announcements from the governments that we think could be game-changers.
It is clear that Industry 4.0 is creating ever-more opportunities for the UK and India to partner. The accelerating rate of adoption of AI, robotics, the Internet of Things, blockchain, data analytics, and other digital solutions are impacting every industrial sector, from manufacturing to financial services. So, it was excellent to see the governments announce the UK India Technology Partnership and the introduction of UK Tech Hubs in India.
We also believe that the future will see changes to where investments are made and partnerships formed. We predict a greater and more-even geographical spread across both countries, with UK businesses investing more in cities like Pune, Indore, Ahmedabad, and Coimbatore, which have strong and well-developed industrial clusters. And Indian businesses will increasingly plug-in to the UK's manufacturing regions, particularly across the midlands, and in the Sheffield and Manchester city regions. Indeed, we were delighted to see an announcement by the PMs to pair innovation clusters, for example Pune and the incredible capability at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at the University of Sheffield.
The initiatives announced will connect start-ups, SMEs, venture capitalists, and universities in both countries. This UK-India innovation ecosystem brings together wealth creators, so will generate jobs and prosperity. And, by focussing on new technologies, we are future-proofing our economies - individually and together.
But what about a UK-India Free Trade Agreement In time, there will be one. But it will not happen soon and business must not wait for one. There are deals to be done now and, thanks to the ongoing reforms being introduced by Mr Modi, they are getting easier to access.
Arguably, there are more important and immediate things that the governments can do to spur bilateral activity than negotiate a trade deal. For instance, a continued focus on the ease of doing business in India will make a big difference. As will tackling non-tariff barriers through the governments' Joint Trade Review, and by extending “accelerator” programmes supporting SMEs, such as the Access India Programme, which is backed by the Indian government, and the Urban Gateway, which is supported by the UK government.
And, it was pleasing to see in the UK-India CEO Forum that Mrs May and Mr Modi agree with this argument. In her remarks, Mrs May urged the Forum to share its unique insights to inform the Joint Trade Review. Mr Modi held up the Access India Programme as a model, reinforced his commitment to improving the ease of doing business, and invited dialogue on issues that matter to business. While there was unanimous recognition of the fantastic progress India has already made, the retrospective tax issue still casts a shadow over investor perceptions. And, given the increasing centrality of technology in the bilateral relationship, the question of enforcing IP protection rules should be considered. If we are encouraging innovation, we need to protect the innovations.
Mr Modi and Mrs May raised the stakes by betting big on a future UK-India partnership with technology and innovation at its core. This is a sound bet.
Kevin McCole is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) at UK India Business Council (UKIBC) and Victor Fermin is UKIBC's Policy and Research Analyst.