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Relentless hunt for trade deals...

The Group of 20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, which was largely focused on the face-to-face between the US and Russian presidents, offered an opportunity for Narendra Modi to meet world leaders, looking to make major trade deals. The decision by the Indian government to implement the goods and services tax (GST) was widely lauded at the summit. It earned praise from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In its report, the group admitted that whilst India had failed so far to regain investment, decisions to streamline the economy had helped drive up exports and would be key to ensuring foreign companies perceiving India as a favourable Investment destination.

Key meetings...

Modi also held three key meetings with world leaders around and during the G20 summit. Of the three leaders, British Prime Minister Theresa May was perhaps in the weakest position with regard to negotiating. The Conservative politician has suffered from a bruising few weeks in office and her powers as prime minister have greatly diminished. This in turn means Britain’s ability to negotiate a satisfactory divorce from Europe has been damaged, with debates over the financial prudence of Brexit only growing more bitter. May thus spent the G20 summit lobbying a number of countries, including Australia, America, Japan and India to commit to trade deals with Britain. 

The India-British trade deal has long been vaunted, but May’s tough stance on immigration has been a stumbling block. She has taken no steps to soften it since the general election, although a new possible pivot has appeared in the form of Vijay Mallya, the liquor baron and Lalit Modi, the former chairman of the Indian Premier League. Both are currently lying low in Britain, with criminal investigations building up against them in India. Whether May could successfully secure an extradition of these two figures or not, it’s possible it could help secure trade with India. At the same time the recurring issue of casteism in the UK has reared its head again at a politically sensitive time, with the British prime minister retreating from an earlier position of supporting legislation against caste discrimination. Whether this hampers UK-Indian trade relations depends on the intensity of anti-casteism activism in Britain.


On opposite sides on key issues...

Narendra Modi’s meeting with Donald Trump was more contentious. The two leaders stand on opposite sides on key issues including the environment and immigration. Their physical embrace on meeting defused the tension, with the pair vowing to fight terror together in a display of public solidarity. Modi also met with business leaders there, recognising the importance of Indian CEOs and workers to the US economy. American businesses are also keen to set up shop in India, to help sell their products to a massive population with a growing middle class. Whilst regulations have so far stymied companies including Elon Musk’s Tesla, Modi made clear that the decision to enact the GST would be a boon to foreign companies which have long seen India as less than business ready. However, one major issue doesn’t seem to have been overturned - President Trump’s aim to curb legal immigration by targeting the H1B Visa status. 

Given that this is overwhelmingly given to Indians, the impact is potentially immense. Modi does not seem to have managed to make Trump budge on this issue.

Perhaps the most interesting movement has been with regard to Israel. While India and Israel have long been allies, Modi’s trip represents a high point in their relationship. Trade and collaboration, particularly with regard to weapons technology, has been central for many years, but this meeting seemed to shift the relationship up a degree. Already India’s biggest arms supplier, greater cooperation in the emerging field of cybersecurity might offer some jobs for more IT professionals. 

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