British Prime Minister David Cameron appealed Wednesday for a new relationship between India and Britain, arguing closer ties could spark both economies, as London agreed for the first time to allow the export of nuclear technology to India.
Mr. Cameron was leading a huge delegation of Cabinet ministers and business leaders intended to send the unmistakable message his new government considers India a vital partner.
“I want to take the relationship between India and Britain to the next level. I want to make it stronger, wider and deeper,” he said in a speech at the headquarters of the company Infosys in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.
Hours earlier, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced Britain would allow the export of its civil nuclear technology to India, mirroring an earlier agreement the United States made with India. The decision was expected to help British firms compete for business in the Indian civil nuclear industry.
While Mr. Cameron spoke of cultural ties and history between India and its former colonial ruler, he made it clear his main mission was to harness the business opportunities offered by the blossoming Indian economy to help revitalize his own nation.
India’s planned $500 billion infrastructure investments, its burgeoning retail market, the 15 million new cell phone users it adds every month all created business opportunities for British business, he said.
“Now I want to see thousands more jobs created in Britain, and of course thousands more in India through trade in the months and years ahead. This is the core purpose of my visit,” he said.
In addition to business ties, Mr. Cameron said he was also focusing his trip on climate change issues and increased security cooperation between the two nations, which have been targeted by terrorist attacks. He also expressed support for an Indian seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Mr. Cameron brought with him six government ministers, about 50 leaders of some of Britain’s largest companies, Olympic gold medallists and academics.
He began his visit in the southern city of Bangalore, where officials signed an agreement for India to buy 57 Hawk advanced trainer jets trainer from Britain.
The planes - 40 meant for the Indian Air Force and the rest for the navy - will be manufactured in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, under license from BAE Systems.
Britain is trying to increase its military trade with India, which traditionally buys most of its weaponry from Israel, the United States and Russia.
“This agreement will bring significant economic benefits to both our countries,” Mr. Cameron said after the deal was announced. “It is evidence of our new, commercial foreign policy in action.”
India bought 66 of the advanced jet trainers from Britain in 2004 for $1.45 billion, after 18 years of negotiations.
In Mumbai, Treasury chief George Osborne rang the opening bell at the Bombay Stock Exchange, declaring- “We are here to declare Britain open for business with you.”
The ministers were to converge on New Delhi, where Mr. Cameron would hold talks Thursday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The two leaders were expected to sign a cultural agreement and seal a round of trade deals, and Mr. Cameron was expected to ask India to reduce trade barriers in several sectors, including banking and defense manufacturing. Mr. Singh was expected to raise concerns about British efforts to stem Indian immigration and to insist that India maintain a role in nearby Afghanistan, despite the objections of rival Pakistan.
Answering questions in Bangalore, Mr. Cameron issued a sharp challenge to Pakistan just days after allegations emerged that members of its spy agency were actively supporting terrorist groups.
“We should be very, very clear with Pakistan that we want to see a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan,” Mr. Cameron said. “But we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world.”
Mr. Cameron’s decision to visit India so soon after taking office has sent a strong message of the value he places on the relationship between the two countries.
Britain was the 5th largest exporter to India in 2005, but has since fallen to 18th. Exports to India dropped from 4.12 billion pounds ($6.4 billion) in 2008 to 2.9 billion ($4.5 billion) in 2009.
The British party includes Barclays Group CEO John Varley, defense giant BAE chairman Richard L. Oliver, jet engine maker Rolls Royce executive Miles Cowdry, chief executive of England’s soccer Premier League, Richard Scudamore, and the heads of the British Museum and British Library.