This week saw David Cameron arrive in India to make the case for investment in British business. Given the intertwined history of the two nations (the 2011 census revealed that Indians are the single largest minority group in the UK and the most prosperous of the major ethnic communities) it is perhaps surprising how little trade is conducted between the countries.
Prior to this trade delegation - the largest ever by a British PM - India was conducting more business with Belgium, Germany and Switzerland than it did with the UK. Cameron has used his time in India, his second visit within a year, to try to establish grounds for a special trading relationship, whilst calling for a cut in red tape and bureaucracy. In return for this, he says, a more flexible attitude on Indian migration into the UK would be adopted.
The PM is hoping that these are the first steps to be taken in ensuring that Britain becomes India’s number one trading partner, or at least overtakes Belgium. The problem is that Cameron’s pledge to soften his stance on immigration, for example with the introduction of same day visas, does not fit with the rhetoric he regularly employs when on the shores of the UK.
Just the week before his trip to the sub continent Cameron stated that the UK could not be seen as a ‘soft touch’ and vowed to restrict access to healthcare, housing, benefits and legal aid for migrants. India, as the world acknowledges, is en route to becoming an economic powerhouse. Its high birth rate and improving infrastructure means that only China is likely to stand in the way of its emergence as the world’s number one economy.
Britain must act now to ensure this growth is intertwined with its own. If Britain and India are to establish a greater level of trade, (Cameron has pledged to double bilateral trade to £23 billion by 2015) then both nations will have to learn from each other. India must help UK industry to be more competitive at many different levels. The UK in turn must be a driving force in helping to resolve immigrations issues and to improve our educational system and improve the transparency of government institutions.
More Indian students should be allowed to study in the UK and should be allowed to work in the country post studies if they want to. Increased immigration will have a positive effect on Britain, so long as it is based on a system of merit. If its borders are sensibly managed, Britain can bring in the best that the world has to offer without leaving its doors wide open.
Sarosh Zaiwalla is senior partner of Zaiwalla & Co Solicitors, the first Indian law firm in Britain.