PM Modi, May discuss economic offender issue, tech partnership post-Brexit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his British counterpart Theresa May in the United Kingdom | Photo: Reuters
India and the United Kingdom on Wednesday committed themselves to a stronger bilateral trade relationship after the UK exits the European Union.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi held discussions with the UK PM, Theresa May, in London in the morning. According to a press statement from the UK PM’s office, the two leaders “also discussed cooperation between the two countries on legal matters”.

There was no word from the Indian side on whether Modi raised the issue of extradition of industrialist Vijay Mallya and former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi. At a press conference, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said “the issue of economic offenders was also raised”, but refused to elaborate further. He said it being a prime ministerial visit, no documents on the subject were exchanged. May expressed the UK’s keenness to begin negotiations on the India-UK free trade agreement (FTA). 

Modi said the proposed FTA should be balanced and mutually beneficial. India wants the UK to be more accommodating about its concerns on work permits, visa-related issues, Indian students and the movement of Indian professionals in the UK. May “updated” Modi on the progress on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. She said the “implementation period agreed in March gives Indian companies and investors the confidence that market access will continue on current terms until the end of 2020”. She also sought a deeper India-UK defence cooperation. 

In the afternoon, the PM called on the Queen, attended a science exhibition and also paid his tributes at the statue of Basaveshwara, the 12th century Lingayat philosopher. The Lingayat community’s support is crucial for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Karnataka assembly polls, which are due on May 12. Modi had unveiled the statue during his visit to London in November 2015.

A “flash mob” of sari-clad women from Indian Ladies in UK, accompanied by dhols, gathered outside Downing Street to welcome the Indian PM with banners such as “In India, Peace is always in Fashion”. However, demonstrations, including a silent protest, to condemn the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district, were held at Parliament Square. During their discussions, Modi said the UK would remain important to India post-Brexit, and the City of London was of great importance to India for accessing the global markets. Brexit refers to the UK’s decision in a June 23, 2016 referendum to leave the 28-nation European Union (EU).

The two leaders discussed the recommendations of the recently completed UK-India joint trade review, and decided to work together on a sector-based roadmap, to reduce barriers to trade, make it easier to do business in both countries and enable a stronger bilateral trade relationship post-Brexit.

“We will also ensure continued application to the UK of EU-India Agreements during the Implementation Period following the UK’s departure from the EU, and put in place arrangements to replicate relevant EU-India agreements beyond this period,” a joint statement said.

Modi and May discussed a new UK-India Tech Partnership, which will create thousands of jobs and generate significant investment in both the economies. India welcomed the UK’s decision to provide additional support to Indian business by establishing a reciprocal ‘fast track mechanism’ for Indian investments in the UK. A joint Green Growth Equity Fund, with a commitment of £120 million from each side, will provide funding for India’s renewable energy sector. It is expected to raise up to £500 million from institutional investors.

India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Cancer Research UK proposed to launch a £10 million bilateral research initiative, which will focus on low-cost approaches to cancer treatment. 

According to official estimates, India-UK bilateral trade stands at US$ 13 billion, with the UK among the largest G20 investors into India over the last 10 years, and India has the fourth largest number of investment projects in the UK. 

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