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BW Businessworld

Cameron On 'Jobs' Mission In Passage To India

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British Prime Minister David Cameron claimed to be on a "jobs mission" as he started on a hoped-for profitable passage to India on Wednesday even as finance minister George Osborne sought the opening up of the giant Indian market to financial firms.

Cameron led one of the largest ever trade and political delegations to India, including six ministers and more than 30 senior executives from top UK firms, to show that Britain is serious about boosting economic exchanges with the Asian giant. Among the executives on Cameron's plane is Richard Olver, chairman of defence group BAE Systems, CEOs of banking giant Barclays, infrastructure group Balfour Beatty, insurance firm Aviva and private equity firm 3i... all in all, a strong trade team.

And trade did get off to a good start as the 700 million-sterling agreement between BAE Systems, the biggest defence contractor in Europe, Rolls Royce and India's state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd was signed on Wednesday. But Cameron told a group of young Indian business leaders at the Infosys campus in Bangalore: "This is a trade mission, yes, but I prefer to see it as my jobs mission."

Speaking in Mumbai, British finance minister George Osborne called on India to speed up the opening of its financial services market and said that he wanted to see completion of a free-trade agreement with Europe by early 2011.

Osborne said that greater Anglo-Indian cooperation would bring benefits for both sides and announced that India's Exim Bank will be granted a licence to operate in Britain and the State Bank of India would base its European headquarters in London.

He will join Prime Minister Cameron and a host of other ministers and businessmen in Delhi later on Wednesday as Britain's new coalition government pulls out all the stops to foster a new special relationship with its former colony.

"The UK has a vital stake in India's rise to global power and prosperity and we are here to listen and to learn, to find out how our strong relationship can grow stronger still," Osborne said.

He said this would involve boosting trade links, better cooperation between financial services industries and a better recognition of common goals in the international policy arena.

BRIC Power

India, a former British colony, belongs to the "BRIC" group of rapidly growing emerging economies along with China, Brazil and Russia has recently announced its arrival in the world economic theatre by launching its own currency symbol, joining the select band of countries with recognisable currency symbols.

Cameron has often lamented that Britain trades more with Ireland than it does with all the BRICs combined and he has vowed to remedy that with vigorous pro-trade diplomacy. On Wednesday, he tried to persuade India to do more business with Britain as a way to offset deep cuts in public spending at home.

London is also going to start granting licences to its civil nuclear firms to export to India, opening up business prospects potentially worth billions of pounds.

"Vested Interests"

In a letter to the businessmen in the run up to the trip, reported The Telegraph of UK, Cameron had described the visit as "historic".

"This is about one thing: laying the foundations of an enhanced relationship between Britain and India for the decades to come. We need this relationship because after the economic problems of the past few years, Britain has to start earning its living again.

"For our part, government ministers on this trip will be stressing the importance of trade and demonstrating to our Indian counterparts how Britain is open for business again," said Cameron.

"In Britain, we're waking up to a new reality," he wrote in a column in Wednesday's edition of the Hindu newspaper. "Economic power is shifting -- particularly to Asia -- so Britain has to work harder than ever before to earn its living in the world. I'm not ashamed to say that's one of the reasons why I'm here in India."

In his speech in Bangalore, he challenged India to "take on vested interests" and further open up its markets.

"We want you to reduce the barriers to foreign investment in banking, insurance, defence manufacturing and legal services -- so that we can both reap the benefits," he said.

With the World Trade Organisation's Doha round of multilateral talks making little progress, Britain sees a free trade deal between the European Union and India as the next big step forward. Cameron said he was determined that such a deal should be reached before the end of the year.