This is my first trip to India, and thinking of the sunny, warm country you see for much of the year, I was surprised to arrive mid-morning into a damp and cool Delhi. I did have a smile seeing everyone in thick coats and wooly hats though! It’s about 12ºC, freezing cold by India standards, but that certainly didn’t stop everything working like clockwork.
Our first stop in the capital was the EU delegation, where we learned that there is growing enthusiasm for a renewal of the free trade agreement discussions between the EU — the biggest global investor in the country — and India. In fact most of the work has been done, but there are some tough issues to tackle first.
We then dropped in to see Sir James Bevan, the British High Commissioner, in his wonderful Lutyens residence, to discuss the unique crossroads in India’s post-Independence history that recently elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi finds himself at.
The Prime Minister has the political authority to take the right decisions on the critical reforms that the country needs, and the new government is playing the long game — rather than pushing reform through in a rush — as it builds its political strength in the federal states. The question is whether Modi’s huge mandate won in 2014 will see the Government through to success or whether the electorate will lose patience.
In the afternoon, we headed off to meet about 25 CBI members to talk about the challenges of doing business in India, where I was glad to hear lots of optimism about the country’s future.
Everyone agrees much work needs to be done, especially in improving India’s Ease of Doing Business Rating, but British goods, services and brands are highly valued and sought after — we lead the way in energy, telecoms, financial services and specialist manufacturing alone. It’s clear that through careful selection of partners and taking good advice, business can be done safely and profitably in India.
We finished up with dinner at the home of the Head of UKTI in India with a small group of guests to continue the discussions, and enjoyed much debate over India’s future and what can be done to give UK companies the confidence to come and do business here, as well as a lovely meal!
After a whirlwind first day, it’s time to get some sleep now, before we head to Jaipur “The Pink City” in Rajasthan tomorrow. I’m looking forward to meeting many new partners at the flagship summit of our Indian sister organisation, the Confederation of Indian Industry, and to speaking at the UK/India Business Council alongside Patricia Hewitt. Come back and read all about it tomorrow!