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UK seeks simpler trade rules

British Prime Minister David Cameron with Indian business leaders in Mumbai on Monday. (PTI)

Mumbai, Feb. 18: British Prime Minister David Cameron today urged India to simplify rules that govern overseas investors and remove entry barriers in areas such as banking, insurance and retailing, reciprocating measures that Britain has adopted to enable Indian entities to operate freely there.

Cameron, who is on a three-day visit to India, made these comments at a meeting with captains of the Indian industry here today.

Some of prominent business leaders who congregated at the Taj Mahal hotel included Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of the Tata group, Adi Godrej, chairman of the Godrej group, and Naina Lal Kidwai, country head of HSBC India.

“Britain is looking to take down the (trade) barriers... We want the Indian government to continue to open up trade barriers and make it easier to do business here... We have to make sure that just as we welcome Indian investments into Britain, it is easier for British companies in banking and retail to invest in this vibrant and fast growing economy,” Cameron said.

He welcomed the recent reform measures announced by the Indian government but said more needed to be done to attract foreign investment.

The Tata group is one of the prominent Indian investors in Britain after having taken over Jaguar Land Rover, Corus and Tetley.

Cameron is accompanied by a huge trade delegation, which is the largest ever accompanying a British Prime Minister on a foreign trip.

Responding to concerns expressed in some quarters about the difficulty in obtaining visas to his country, Cameron announced that the UK would introduce same-day visa services for investors. He added that there would be no limit on the number of students from India going to study in Britain.

“We have the biggest visa operations anywhere else in the world right here in India. I announce that we are going to introduce for businesses a same-day visa service to those who want to come to our country and invest,” he said.

Cameron, who is looking to establish a “special relationship” with India, is on his second visit to the country.

He said India would be the third largest economy in the world by 2030. He added that companies from Britain were keen to help India develop new cities and districts, particularly along a 1,000-km corridor between Mumbai and Bangalore. He said British firms were willing to work with the Indian and British governments to develop nine districts to link Mumbai with Bangalore, its technology hub.

“I’ve got architects, planners and finance experts with me who can work out the complete solution. It would unleash India’s potential along the 1,000-km stretch from Mumbai to Bangalore, transforming lives and putting British businesses in a prime position to secure valuable commercial deals,” he said while addressing employees at the India headquarters of Hindustan Unilever earlier in the day.

Cameron is set to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tomorrow where a range of issues are likely to be discussed. The talks may see the Indian side seeking more information on the alleged kickbacks in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland helicopter deal.

Meanwhile, Unilever announced that it would be investing 50 million euros to set up its first Asian aerosol deodorant manufacturing facility in Khamgaon, Maharashtra.

Investment in this new factory in India complements the 70 million euros committed to building new home care liquids and distribution facilities in Thailand announced last week and 75 million euros to building a new home care factory and expanding existing manufacturing plants in South Africa announced at the end of January.

Pier Luigi Sigismondi, chief supply chain officer of Unilever, said, “This investment in India is part of our broader expansion plans to help us achieve our ambition of doubling our business, while halving our environmental impact. The Khamgaon plant is one of the thirty new factories to be built by 2015. We will utilise the latest technology to deliver the increased quality products our consumers demand while meeting the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan commitments.”

Cameron said, “It’s great to be visiting Unilever’s Indian headquarters today — more than 120 years since Sunlight soap, one of Unilever’s earliest products, was first exported from Britain to India. Unilever is a shining example of how a business with British roots can succeed in India and beyond. I’m delighted to hear they’re expanding further — investing over 40 million in a new manufacturing plant in Khamgaon to service the emerging Indian and South Asian markets.”

Investment in Khamgaon will be phased over three years and the production capacity will gradually be scaled up to generate direct employment for over 150 people and indirect employment for about 200 people. The plant will service demand from India and across Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.

 
 
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