By Jayant Krishna and Alan Gemmell
It’s an exciting time to take up our new positions, in business and in government, to grow the trade and investment relationship between India and the UK. Businesses on both sides have an ambitious, enthusiastic approach to the future of our economic cooperation. While the shift in global circumstances has unveiled new and unexpected opportunities.
The UK-India partnership is already strong. In 2019, trade between our countries hit £24 billion, up by almost 10% in just one year. We also have a robust investment relationship, with British and Indian investments supporting over half a million jobs in each other’s economies. The UK has been the second-fastest growing G20 investor in India over the last ten years, driving investment over £21.48 billion. Even before the coronavirus hit, the UK was India’s second largest research partner and joint research will be worth £400 million by next year.
But there is the potential to do so much more. The benefits of this ‘unbeatable combination’ are clear: New jobs, economic growth and new avenues to co-create and co-innovate.
The steps for strengthening this partnership were discussed at the UK-India Joint Economic Trade Committee (JETCO) held in July. Both countries, represented by international trade secretary Liz Truss and commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal, agreed to an Enhanced Trade Partnership with a road map to a potential free trade agreement (FTA) in the future.
At JETCO, three business-led working groups covering healthcare and life sciences, digital and data services, and food and drink submitted recommendations to remove market access barriers within those fields. Chemicals and services were also cited as areas of mutual interest. The real work arguably starts now. Business-to-government dialogue must continue and both governments must deliver against the recommendations made.
Each sector is an important part of the trading relationship and will only become increasingly so: Medical and pharmaceutical trade contributed £506.24 million to bilateral trade in 2019; digital and data services £980 million; and food and drink £723.59 million.
Healthcare and life sciences: The current pandemic has laid bare the need for all countries to have appropriate healthcare, as well as the importance of international collaboration to share expertise and generate better outcomes for the entire world. That means having the right infrastructure, medical equipment, and medicines to meet demands. The joint venture between Oxford University, AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India on a potential vaccine is an example of the great things that the UK and India can achieve together.
Likewise, the export of 2.8m packets of paracetamol and 11m facemasks from India to the UK underlines the importance of a strong partnership in overcoming challenging circumstances. Looking to the future, enabling the UK and India to collaborate more effectively through shared procurement portals, knowledge and training transfer, and standards alignment will certainly benefit both countries.
Digital and data services: Whether it be the delivery of higher education and advanced skills development, AI and machine learning, or in healthcare, data and digital technology have so much potential to benefit both our countries. That’s why the UK recently launched the Innovation Challenge Fund for the AI-Data cluster in Karnataka and the Future Mobility cluster in Maharashtra to support scientists in academia and industry to tackle today’s most acute global challenges: Covid-19 and climate change.
Businesses also propose, among other key recommendations, a data adequacy agreement that would allow the free flow of data between the UK and India, subject to data protection standards. This could have huge benefits for knowledge and innovation in fields like healthcare and education, and to identify new opportunities.
Food and drink: Making it easier for farmers and businesses to sell their products in both markets is paramount, subject to appropriate standards and regulations like those outlined by the joint working groups. This can open new markets to sellers, increase supply and the variety of quality products available to consumers in both markets, and enable India to collaborate with the UK on technological innovation in cold chain infrastructure and food processing.
Bringing these business-led recommendations to fruition will build momentum for a potential FTA. The UK is establishing a new trading relationship with the world, and coupled with India’s self-reliant mission, there are boundless opportunities for mutual growth and economic enhancement. The next round of JETCO is scheduled to take place in autumn where ministers will discuss how to support these recommendations, and agree the next steps towards newer frontiers of the UK-India trade relationship.
Jayant Krishna is Group CEO, UK India Business Council. Alan Gemmell is UK Trade Commissioner for South Asia
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.