Q&A with Mr Richard McCallum, Vice Chairman of the UK-India Business Council, on taking UK-India ties to the next level

Q. Tell us a bit about the work of the UK-India Business Council?

A. The UK India Business Council supports UK businesses with insightsnetworkspolicy advocacy, and services that they need to succeed in a key market like India. We work with the UK Government and other influential and connected partners to ensure business interests are conveyed to India’s Union and State legislators. Ultimately, we seek to inform and influence decisions that will make it easier for British businesses to operate in India, as well as provide services to help them operate, set up, or become interested in working in India.

Q. In your opinion, why haven’t UK-India economic ties (trade or investments) scaled up to its true potential? What are the issues clogging the pipe?

A. UK-India economic ties are plentiful, with the UK and India featuring among the largest foreign investors in each other’s economies. From 2015-18, bilateral trade grew by 27 percent, at a time when global trade growth was slowing. However, to truly reach the heights that UK-India relations offer, there are a number of issues and opportunities to address. Key issues that our members have disclosed include the quality of bureaucracy and complicated regulations. Discrepancies between different states is problematic too. If progress is made in these areas, as has been the case in others through the post-study working visa reform in the UK and the GST reform in India, we should see economic ties between UK and India scale up further.

The Common Data Agreement would facilitate UK-India digital services trade and also set a global standard for others

Q. On Brexit, what smart moves do you suggest India should do to up its game in deepening UK-India ties post Brexit?

A. Given the breadth and depth of the UK-India relationship, it is not easy to identify ways in which it can be deepened. However, one area where the UK and India can cooperate to lead the world is in the field of data. The UKIBC is encouraging both the Governments to negotiate a Common Data Agreement which will not only facilitate digital services trade between the two countries, but also set a global standard for others to adopt.

Q. The UK – India Free Trade Agreement has been in the works for quite some time, but the end is yet far. Some policymakers opine that the UK wants better market access while India wants better visa norms for professionals. In your view, what is the best way to close the FTA negotiations in a win-win manner ?

A. The FTA is, as you say, a long way away. The priority, therefore, should be to continue the focus on improving the ease of doing business and identify and remove non-tariff market access barriers through the ongoing Joint Trade Review. At the same time, there are two areas where the UK and India can solidify important links that future proof the bilateral relationship. There is the Common Data Agreement mentioned above. Another important agreement is on the mutual recognition of qualifications. This would provide a tremendous boost to the university-to-university connections and the people-to-people connections which underpin the trade and investment partnership.

The UK’s world-class capabilities in digital education and healthcare offers scope for India to improve healthcare and education access for its masses

Q. Science & technology will lead to innovation, one benefit of which will be to enable India’s rural masses to access essential products and services? How is the UK gearing up on innovations?

A. India’s growing access to technology presents an enormous opportunity to bring previously exclusive activities to the masses. Consistent investment and development have made the UK a world-leader in science and technology. There are many opportunities for collaboration, from business to universities to research centers. Two areas of note are digital healthcare and digital education because of the UK’s leading capabilities in these areas coupled with India’s needs for improved healthcare and education. For example, tools including telehealth and adaptive intelligence solutions can help to lower the barriers between hospitals and patients, improve the access to quality care and enhance patient satisfaction, particularity in India’s smaller cities.

Q. In education, India has seen a rapid increase in the quantity of universities, but most of them are factories churning out graduates without focusing on the quality of education? What is your advice to policymakers so that the quality of higher education improves? How can the UK support?

A. UKIBC has formally submitted several recommendations to the Government of India on higher education. A priority should be mutual recognition of degrees. Currently, India does not recognize the 1-year Masters programmes offered by the UK, causing it to miss out on well-qualified and driven Indian graduates from the UK, to the detriment of its own education and economic sectors. So that is one step to address. We have also outlined that India should look beyond exclusively partnering with international universities ranked in the top 200 globally. As we outlined in our report ‘Beyond the Top 200’, India can benefit from strong and effective international relationships with universities that, despite being ranked outside of the top 200, are highly regarded, and can help India to deliver across the four pillars of excellence, equal access, expansion, and employability. Additionally, schemes should be introduced to stimulate collaboration to deliver online learning programmes. The Government of India should make employability skills a top priority to effectively mainstream vocational skills; both Governments should stimulate and support a university-to-university dialogue on University Social Responsibility; and establish a clear roadmap of guidelines for universities to operate between the UK and India.

Sectors like manufacturing, technology (including fintech), education, health, food, etc. hold significant scope for future collaborations

Q. As India’s ambitious $5 trillion GDP growth plan continues, what key opportunities do you think that provides for UK business?

A. India’s growth projections provide enormous opportunity to UK business, aided by India’s growing consumption, investment, and production and service markets. The UK is well placed to collaborate and provide support to India across numerous sectors, from advanced manufacturing and healthcare, to gaming regulation and higher education, with the UK’s technological proficiencies leading in all areas.

India’s ‘Digital India’ and ‘Make in India’ reforms offer avenues for UK-India collaboration in technology and manufacturing, supported by our Access in India work that provides support to UK SMEs. Likewise, the Ayushman Bharat mega-healthcare scheme of the Indian Government poses opportunity for UK assistance in healthcare, including in insurance and data. Growth in online gaming, food and drink, and financial technology are other areas the UK can support with technological expertise. As these opportunities are increasingly aided by improvements in the ease of doing business, we should see greater cooperation between the UK and India to continue to grow the already significant relationship that they share.

For more information on the UK-India Business Council, see our website.

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