David Cameron Begins Indian Charm Offensive

David Cameron previously met President Prathibha Patil in Windsor in October 2009

July 27, 2010

(KATAKAMI / SKY NEWS) Prime Minister David Cameron and dozens of delegates have arrived in India in a bid to create a “new special relationship” with the country.

Mr Cameron has arrived in Bangalore joined by six government ministers, 50 leaders of British companies, Olympic gold medallists and academics in his attempt to woo the emerging economy.

The coalition government has identified India as a country that should be at the heart of its foreign strategy to increase trade and improve Britain’s economy.

“This delegation is unprecedented in its scale and ambition,” said Jo Johnson, a Conservative Party lawmaker who previously lived in New Delhi and is joining the trip.

“The government has made a very clear statement of intent, that India is rising to the top of Britain’s diplomatic priorities.”

Some of the UK’s most senior chief executives and chairmen are among the 68-strong delegation, including Richard Olver of BAE Systems and John Varley of Barclays bank.

There is a belief that we haven’t benefited as much from India’s growth as we should have.

Jo Johnson, a Conservative Party law-maker

Former Olympic athletes Dame Kelly Holmes and Sir Steve Redgrave are among a sporting contingent.

The Prime Minister has pledged to renew relations with the former colony, where the economy is growing at a rate of 10% a year.

Britain was the 5th largest exporter to India in 2005, but has since fallen to 18th.

“There is a belief that we haven’t benefited as much from India’s growth as we should have,” said Ms Johnson.

In the last decade Afghanistan and Iraq have dominated British foreign policy but Mr Cameron now wants to concentrate on the relationships that have been left to “wither or stagnate”.

“From now on we will not neglect the wider world,” Foreign Secretary William Hague, will also be in India, said last month.

The Prime Minister will hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil.

He will also meet leading legislators, potential investors and seal a round of trade deals.

Chancellor George Osborne is taking British executives to Mumbai for talks with their Indian counterparts.

David Cameron and Recep Tayyip Erdogan

David Cameron’s also been improving relations with Turkey’s PM

Sky’s political editor Adam Boulton is in Bangalore and said the visit is designed to show that Britain means business and is impressed with India’s economic growth.

But he said that India might not be happy that ministers will discuss aid spending, which is likely to see the UK cut the £300m it offers the country each year.

However, some experts have speculated that the charm offensive may be overshadowed by larger rivals like the US and Japan, who are equally aggressive suitors.

“There are a whole number of countries who recognize that India is a fast growing economy and is going to be an important ally – not just the UK,” said Gareth Price, a member of a British government trade organization’s Asia task force.

The visit comes one week after Mr Cameron’s first visit to the White House where talks were dominated by the release of the Lockerbie bomber and the BP oil spill disaster.

And he arrived in India from Turkey, another country the coalition is targeting as a future ally and potential trading partner.  (*)

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