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The Brit connection continues
Cottingley that houses the British Deputy High Commission in Chennai has been closely intertwined with the history of British-India relations. For over a century Cottingley has preserved some of the best British traditions including the historic architecture and artefacts of yore. Three successive occupants of Cottingley from the mid 1990s had their first name Mike and have been Indiaphiles. The current one of Indian origin appears even more so!

Bharat Suresh Joshi moved into Cottingley with wife Bhakti and their two daughters in September 2013. He is in-charge of consular relations in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala. His forebears migrated from Gujarat to Africa and thence to UK. Born in Croydon, UK, in 1969, Joshi speaks English, French, Gujarati, Hindi and Spanish and is learning to speak Tamil! He has had diplomatic postings at Gambia, Bangladesh and Qatar and was British High Commissioner to Cameron and non-resident Ambassador to Gabon, Chad and Equitorial Guinea.

In an interview with IE, Joshi pointed to trade between India and UK registering a healthy growth. He referred to the UK being the third largest investor in India (after Mauritius and Singapore) and more interestingly, India becoming a major investor in the UK with its total investments exceeding those in the rest of Europe put together.

For one whose forefathers hailed  from Gujarat, Narendrabhai Modi becoming the Prime Minister should be of special delight! Joshi said: “it was fascinating to see the largest parliamentary election in the world conducted so well and the results showing democracy alive and kicking in India. We wish the new government every success.”

Excerpts from the interview:

Industrial Economist (IE): How is the current state of the British economy?

Bharat Joshi (BJ): This year our economy is expected to grow at 2.8 per cent. For a mature economy, this is very good. We would love to grow at 5 per cent like India! UK is growing faster than most of Europe. Our manufacturing sector is growing at 1.8 per cent. For the first time our manufacturing growth is faster than that of Germany. UK  now has the lowest manufacturing cost in western Europe. We are keen to leverage this advantage to encourage Indian companies to set up manufacturing hubs in the UK for servicing the needs of European Union.

IE: What is the special characteristic of British companies’ investments in India?

BJ: One of the defining characteristics of British companies investing in India is that they do not bring lots of British people to work here! If you look at some of our large companies like Standard Chartered Bank and Vodafone, they work on developing and nurturing local talent. They work to transfer skills.

IE: When I first visited the UK in 1967, I covered several large automobile companies; these were owned by the British – BMC, Leyland, Rootes, Standard Triumph, Dunlop, Joseph Lucas, York Trailer... Over time, these have vanished. But Britain has maintained its lead in R&D and innovation. Your comments.

BJ: This is partly true. But, Britain still has a large number of automotive factories. The difference is that they are no longer owned by the British. Jaguar had been sold to the Tatas. But they are still manufacturing large number of vehicles in the UK. Nissan and Toyota have large manufacturing plants in the UK. The Nissan Leaf, an electric car, manufactured in UK, is sold all over Europe. Ford has a large plant that exports from UK. So, Britain is still a large and important vehicle manufacturer.  You are right in your comments on innovations. Companies like GKN and Stadco in the components sector, have set up manufacturing facilities in India and elsewhere. We also have a large number of small companies that are known for their technologies and innovations and they expand overseas.

IE: Britain has a long record of excellence in areas like aerospace and defence equipment. India has been importing a lot of these and has been liberalising these sectors. Do you foresee great possibilities?

BJ: Yes, we do. Lot of work is going on in these two sectors. We see a huge scope for doing research in Tamil Nadu. This will help in the design and manufacture of products for global markets including the UK through joint ventures. I notice a lot of work on aeronautical engineering in Coimbatore. Advanced engineering in manufacturing has a huge potential for Indo-UK joint efforts.

IE: In recent years I notice a lot of interest in the field of healthcare. The British government has brought in several experts in advanced medial care. Your views.

BJ: Britain has invested a lot in healthcare. I find Chennai as the healthcare capital of India. So, we are forging a number of partnerships.

Many doctors in the south have been trained in the UK. Several large hospitals from this region have partnerships and collaborations with British institutions. The Indo-UK health initiative is a groundbreaking umbrella for further cooperation between the countries in the area of healthcare. Partnerships have been established in diabetes and oncology.

We are negotiating with the Tamil Nadu government to start primary healthcare projects in association with British companies. We believe high quality primary healthcare can reduce substantially the burden on tertiary healthcare.

I am impressed with the number of hospitals I visited. They offer high quality service with passion and caring.

IE: London’s underground system is an engineering marvel in tunneling and construction. With the present interest of Indian metros and towns to improve mass transport infrastructure, there should be a lot of scope for drawing on the British expertise. Is it happening?

BJ: Yes, I see a lot of potential. I am hoping to engage the Transport For London (TFL) on metro projects in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. There is so much of activity in this area in India and UK. I am in conversation with organisations like L&T and TFL.

IE: The Japanese extend a lot of assistance for setting up industrial corridors connecting metros. There is interest in setting up such corridors in other regions. What would be Britain’s interest in these?

BJ: We have been involved with the Bengaluru-Mumbai corridor.  We look with interest at the Tuticorin-Chennai corridor.  We believe this corridor is sustainable and environmentally consistent.  We are ready and willing to work on this. The government needs to tell us where it likes to have our help the most.

IE: What will be UK’s short-term economic focus?

BJ: I envisage two changes. The first is that UK’s presence would expand. More British companies would involve in big projects. eg. in the power sector. Trade will continue to increase.

There have been some really good technological marvels in British companies that have increased the delivery of energy from existing thermal plants. This can be achieved in just about six months. One of the things we need to do is to bring these companies forward to engage with the Government of Tamil Nadu.

Britain is also doing a lot of work in wind energy. I foresee in the next few years the biggest potential for harnessing offshore wind energy along the coast of Tamil Nadu.

We also have expertise in nuclear energy. There is good scope for sharing this with India.

IE: Please specify few areas where policy changes can help in the flow of investments and trade.

BJ: Everyone realises the potential of India.

Everyone wants to do business with India. But over the past few years there is disappointment that the potential has not been realised. This can be realised quickly with opening up for FDI. British companies are keen to invest in India. Despite the tax issues, Vodafone is keen to invest more. TESCO wants to invest big. Some of the bottlenecks relate to logistics are simple to resolve. For example, we offer Indian businessmen ten year multiple entry visas. But most of our business people doing business with India for long get only six-month visas. Issues on registering business, on taxes... need to be simplified and transparent.

The problem is not about legislation and policy. It is about implementation. Less bureaucracy and less laws would help! I would like to look at it that way.  – With inputs from Siva Chelladurai

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