| Bush and Blair: The Indian connection
London, Nov. 11: The impact of India, now classed as a 'tiger economy', will be on the agenda when Tony Blair is given the honour of becoming the first foreign leader to meet President George W. Bush after his re-election.
Blair, who was due to leave for Washington today, is under pressure from British trade unions to do something to stem the loss of thousands of jobs to India through outsourcing.
Bush and Blair, scheduled to have dinner tonight with more talks tomorrow, see eye to eye on this issue. While Democratic challenger John Kerry had initially hinted he would try and discourage outsourcing to India and China, two countries now seen by many as threats to western economies, Bush has always taken the view that the free market must prevail.
However, with a general election due possibly in May, Blair will have to recognise he must do more to reassure the unions which have been on the warpath over outsourcing to India.
Domestically, Blair has paid a high price for aligning the British government closely with Bush over Iraq. He has faced mounting criticism, even from his own MPs, over his decision to move soldiers from Britain's crack Black Watch, a Scottish regiment, to the 'zone of death' near Baghdad in support of American military operations in Falluja.
'The relationship between Britain and the US is fantastically important,' Prime Minister Blair said in a TV interview before his departure.
'It is a huge strength of this country to have that relationship and if we are confronting this threat of terrorism in the world, it is important we confront it together.'
He emphasised: 'You know, I think there always is and always should be a situation in which the British Prime Minister and the American President get on well together. I regard it as part of my job.'
Following Yasser Arafat's death today, there is even greater pressure on Blair to secure some kind of 'payback' from Bush on West Asia. Blair has consistently said he believes the US-led 'roadmap' to peace remains the only way to resolve the Israel-Palestine question.
On outsourcing, Blair's view is that 'within a decade hundreds of thousands of UK jobs will go to China and India unless we build a wholly new platform of economic opportunity in knowledge, skills and science'.
He has said: 'We live in an economy today which is global, in which there is going to be a lot of churning of jobs, in which the old concept of 9 to 5 jobs, that people kept the same job for many, many years, is changing and has already changed and that the best thing that government can do is not offer a false prospectus to people that we can prevent these changes, but on the contrary help people through education, through skills, through an active employment service to find new jobs if they lose their existing ones.'
The Prime Minister pointed out: 'If you go to India and you go down to places like Bangalore and you see the information technology and biotechnology graduates working there, we are in a different world today, the 21st century is going to be dominated by some of these countries whose labour costs may be lower than ours at the moment, but these countries are catching up fast and we have got to move ahead.'
Blair has argued: 'The task of political leadership is to tell people what you honestly believe the challenges of the future are and we are not going to compete with these countries unless we are getting a highly educated skilled workforce moving up the ladder the whole time. And, yes, it may well be true that there are Indian graduates in call centres, there are probably some graduates here in call centres, but I can tell you there are a lot of Indian graduates now in new technology companies and they are beginning to make a lot of money and a lot of competition for Europe.'
Tarun Das, of the Confederation of Indian Industry, recently told the annual conference of his UK counterpart, the Confederation of British Industry, that a growing number of Indian companies were planning to invest in the UK.
Around 500 firms from India were already trading in this country but that figure would double over the next few years, he predicted. He said: 'Britain is a good location. Outsourcing and offshoring is going to be two-way traffic.'