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Build special bilateral cooperation

The British Business Group, Chennai, promotes business between UK and India. BBG has as its members business leaders, expatriates of companies engaged in manufacture or trade as also experts with in-depth knowledge on Britain.

I was invited by BBG to address on British business in Chennai. Travelling down memory lane, I recalled that for the first couple of decades after independence, south India was familiar mostly with British companies that had been deeply entrenched in business. A&F Harvey, Addison, Best & Crompton, Binnys, English Electric,
Parrys, Rane, Simpsons, Stanes, etc. flourished for decades. Besides, dozens of desi entrepreneurs were engaged in distributing a range of products imported from Britain. With the restrictions on imports and the incentives provided for progressive manufacture in India, several of these trading houses entered manufacturing.

Profuse British investments

Alert businessmen like S Anantharamakrishnan bought several British-run enterprises. The familiarity with Bri-tish businesses helped in venturing into manufacturing a range of light engineering products, automobiles and auto components. Ashok Leyland, Easun Engineering, Enfield India, Standard Motors, TI Cycles and several allied units surfaced in quick time. With the thrust on indigenisation, these efforts accelerated in the 1960s. TVS set up many units at Padi in collaboration with reputed British companies like Dunlop, Clayton and Lucas.

A unique opportunity

I also recounted a unique opportunity: Thanks to a precious reference by my friend H B Stanford, Technical Director, Simpsons in 1967, I spent two weeks as a guest of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, London. SMMT provided me rich facilities to visit a dozen leading automobile and component manufacturing units. Britain was at the peak of the post-war boom and had a flourishing auto sector.
I had similar opportunity to visit Britain on facilities provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1982, 1996 and 2000 when I visited coal mines, chemical and engineering industries and looked at financial and transport services that included the British underground metro rail system.
I also recounted my experience of visiting Britain as part of the media delegation that accompanied Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006. This provided the opportunity to cover the meetings of Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Manmohan Singh.
Among the important bequeaths of the British, English is the most precious. The British system of civil services has been of great value. Britain continues to be among the critical trading partner of India. Bilateral trade between the two countries has proliferated over the last ten years and reached around £18 billion in 2017; this despite Brexit uncertainties.
Britain has been a significant supplier of defence equipment to India. From life sciences and healthcare to food and drinks, energy, education and culture, the commercial links are vast and growing. There is also a significant expansion of trade in services including IT and financial services.
Over 800 Indian companies operate in the UK. Well-known Indian families like the Swaraj Pauls (Caparo Group), Mittals (Arcelor), Agarwals (Vedanta), Hindujas head large multinational enterprises headquartered in the UK. Tatas, Wipro, and Infosys, have made substantial investments.

Target £ 50 billion trade in five years

With Brexit, I envisage a scope for even closer relations with the UK. The two countries should come closer by two quick steps: encouraging free trade and investments with most favoured treatments and entering into a type of rupee trade agreement that India had with the USSR. IE has been suggesting such bilateral trade agreements in which there can be agreement on preferred imports of sophisticated goods and services from the UK matched by exports of a vast range of consumer goods from India. Bilateral trade could be targeted at £ 50 billion in five years.
The BBG also presented the new British Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai, Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford. Bedford earlier served as Consul General in Florida, Atlanta, USA as also in South East Asia, Russia, Qatar….
In his address, he mentioned the scope for expansion of investments that would be highlighted at the TN GIM 2019.
BBG Chairman, Christie Cherian provided some nuggets on British history. – SV

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