Crispin Simon, British Deputy High Commissioner for western India and Director General of Department for International Trade, India and South Asia, speaks to Prajakta Joshi regarding the growing trade relations between India and the UK and what it offers for Pune’s fast developing industrial hub.
Has Brexit affected trade relations between India and the UK in any way, for better or for worse?
We now have five successive quarters of double digit percentage growth. So, the growth rate is very fast, which is exciting. The growth of exports to the UK from India is growing faster than the UK exports to India, which is good for the latter. The UK is an attractive market for India. So the post-Brexit trading relation is strong and growing.
As far as the flourishing UK-India business and trading relations are concerned, where does Pune stand?
Pune is an extremely commercial city. We have got a variety of British companies that are already here. Quite a lot of them have established their facility here itself, and many of them are exporting as well. For instance, JCB, the company that manufactures ‘Yellow Diggers’. The design engineering of the product is done in the UK, while the manufacturing is done here. However, it’s interesting that more than 50 per cent of the JCB machines manufactured here are re-exported out of India. So Pune is truly a part of the global supply chain. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK, recently signed an agreement to have a technological partnership between UK and India, as a part of which we would like to run around five to six programmes. The first one is the idea to form a cluster or a relationship between a part of India and a part of UK, and we are forming a relationship between Pune and the Midlands (Birmingham) which is the hub of automotive industry in the UK. We would like to get small companies and large companies, higher educations, technical colleges to recognise that if you are thinking of going to India, go to Pune. And then when they go back to the UK, or when the Indians come back here, they will start talking about it. It’s extraordinary how powerful physical and cultural connections can be. I am also here to promote a tech summit that we are going to have in the city, most probably in December. We would like to offer an opportunity to Indian companies who would like to present themselves to British companies, involved in any fields of technology with ideas about manufacturing, mobility, electric vehicles and the future of healthcare.
Would there be any mergers or acquisitions as part of this new partnership programme between UK and India?
New companies would definitely be investing in Indian ones as a part of the partnership programme. In the tech sector alone, British exports to India are around 360 million pounds and that’s a lot of people and a lot of invoices being written out. Some mergers will be by acquisition, some will be by Indian companies acquiring UK companies. It’s important that the business flows both ways. Around 1,00,000 people in the UK are employed by Indian companies, and that has grown from zero around 30 years ago. Indian companies have found that the UK is able to provide the right kind of base for the global/ European businesses outside India. So, it’s not just the question of Britain selling staff to India, there is also a lot of technology flying from India to UK.
What are the challenges that British industries face while entering India?
I think it’s no secret that India is at No. 100 in the ease of doing business, according to the World Bank. However, the good news is that it has come up from No. 140 to 100 and there has been a dramatic improvement, but it’s still a 100. The UK is in the top 10. So, it is certainly more difficult to do business in India. I did business before this, and I think it is ‘fun’ challenging, not ‘impossible’ challenging. Also, you have very big cities and long transportation. So physical distribution of products is a completely different challenge. In a country where cuisine is so important, I think we have many things to offer in food and drinks. And we are working with the Indian government about the challenges that the British companies face here. The Indian government says that if we have to bring in food here, it has to be harmonious with India. There are challenges with the regulations, but we are working with India. We had a nice meeting with Suresh Prabhu, Minister of Commerce and Industry, and we have agreed to set up a working group in food and drinks as well as IT systems and life sciences to look at such trade barriers so that the two countries can work more actively with each other.
In February 2018, at the India-UK Createch Summit, UK’s Framestore company announced a joint venture with Pune-based Anibrain company. The partnership is in the digital imaging sector, making CGI images for Hollywood, advertising, broadcast and corporate sectors. The business employs a staff of 700 with a partnership plan to double to 1,400 by 2019.
Over 50 Pune-based companies have invested in UK, majority are from ICT, advanced engineering and automotive sector. Automotive has been one of the key focus areas off late with two recent investment in UK’s Electric Vehicle domain. Bharat Forge has set up a R&D Centre in MIRA Tech Park and invested in Tevva Motors.