Britain The Global Player: 'UK will Help India Reach its Full Potential'

Interview

Alok Sharma MP, Foreign Office Minister for Asia And The Pacific and Minister in the British Prime Minister Theresa May Cabinet, speaks to Diplomatist Editor-at-Large Alankar Srivastava on Brexit, UK-India bilateral relations, etc. Excerpts...

You are the youngest and the second Indian-origin minister in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet. Does it reflect the importance of India in Britain’s scheme of things?

I was delighted to get what I think is one of the most interesting jobs in government. As well as covering all aspects of foreign policy, diplomacy and security, a key part of my brief is economic diplomacy. Particularly at this time, we are demonstrating successfully that the UK is open for business and is more active and outward facing on the world stage than ever before. This includes our relationships with many of our strategic partners and high growth economies in Asia and the Pacific.

Having responsibility for economic diplomacy, one of the important things for me is encouraging a lot more inward investment to the UK from overseas. On my first foreign visits in the job to India and China, the conversations I have had with investors suggest that they continue to be extremely positive about the UK, and recognise the additional opportunities that leaving the European Union (EU) will bring us.

Comment on the bilateral relations between Britain and India. How do you see Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to London in November 2015; enlighten us on your role as a Minister of Asia and the Pacific at FCO in the new government.

The UK and India have naturally strong ties and our relationship was boosted even further during the very successful visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year. That close relationship has continued with our new Prime Minister Theresa May meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 and, of course, in less than two months of the new UK government being formed, we’ve had four British Ministers going out to India and two Indian Ministers coming here. These Ministerial bilateral exchanges reinforce just how important our strategic partnership is for both countries.

And that partnership is on many levels - whether it comes to nearly £16 billion in bilateral trade or the 1.5 million British Indians who live in the UK. Of course, this year we are celebrating the UK-India Year of Education, Research and Innovation. Twenty-five thousand British young people will get work and gain experience in India by 2020 through British Council programmes and over 18,000 Indian students were enrolled at UK higher education institutions in 2015. Next year, we will hold a UK-India Year of Culture, which will be an incredibly dynamic festival to celebrate the arts and culture of India in the UK.

One of the bilateral projects which I personally have been working on with colleagues in government over the past year is Masala bonds - the raising of funds in rupees in the London market by Indian companies and public sector units. Since PM Modi’s landmark announcement in London, there’s been a flow of Masala bond issuances and I expect many more to come because of the compelling growth story in the Indian economy. People are finding that there is significant demand for Masala bonds in the London market at a price, which is attractive for both issuers and investors.

If you look at the projections that are being made now, by 2050, India and China together will be edging towards 30 percent of the world economy. What is clear is that the 21st Century is going to be the Asian Century, and India will play a pivotal role. With the UK itself a global player and a key partner for India over very many years, we have an important role to play in helping India reach its full potential and we stand ready to do that.

How do you feel representing a place where you work (Britain) on a place from where you belong (India)?

I’m extremely proud to serve as a British Minister. My portfolio contains almost 40 countries; UK shares key strategic relationship with India. I am proud of my Indian heritage and if my knowledge of India helps in enhancing our bilateral relationship, that is of course good news!

You have remarked that even after the exit of Britain from the EU, doors will be open for investments in Britain. Please elaborate.

Britain is an outward looking globally leading nation. We are the fifth largest economy in the world, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and we play a leading role in NATO, the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth. We are committed to peacekeeping, to development and to our extensive security cooperation with international partners.

While our future relationship with the EU is still to be determined, we are not leaving Europe. We will want the strongest possible economic links with our European neighbours, as well as our close friends and other important partners. I recognise that, particularly at this time, we need to be even more active and more energetic on the world stage.

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