interview | Industry

India’s economy is growing so quickly, U.K needs to react to it: Jules Chappell

‘Post-study work visa, which is incredibly important to Indians, will evolve soon’

Indian economy is growing very fast and Britain is making efforts to forge closer relations with the country in very practical ways, said Jules Chappell OBE, managing director, business at London & Partners, the Mayor of London’s economic development agency. Formerly Britain’s youngest ambassador when she took up the position in Guatemala, Ms. Chappell said that U.K, particularly London, is increasing its efforts to attract Indian talent and businesses, including attempts to offer easier visas. Edited excerpts:

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to U.K, how do you view the economic partnership between the two countries?

It’s a really critical one because India is the third largest investor in London after the U.S. and then China. You may remember that the [London] Mayor Sadiq Khan visited [India] in December last year and even [due to] a visit like that, we had 400 jobs...that have been created in London since then. So it has been an incredibly dynamic relationship. I mean obviously India’s economy is growing so quickly, the historic ties that we have and the fact that, [we have] such a large diaspora in London, over half-a-million Indians. He [Prime Minister Modi] is very much a respected and admired political figure. I know that his visits always have a big impact when he comes to London. It is a mutual thing. U.K. is the largest G-20 investor in India. So I think we are good mutual friends.

Some experts say these partnerships with India would help Britain to grow its diplomatic power after it leaves the EU. Your take?

I think the relationship with India has always been important partly because of the Commonwealth. But certainly when the U.K looks at trade globally, the European partners have always been incredibly important. In fact, in my last job when I was in the Foreign Office, I was a diplomat for many years and one of my last jobs was all around ‘we need to do so much more to strengthen our relations with countries like India.’ So I think it’s that growing awareness that we have a very established base in terms of European trade, but it’s not a zero-sum [game]. Economies such as India are growing so quickly and we need to react to that. And particularly being here in a city like Bengaluru, it’s such a dynamic tech hub. I think there is a mutual passion for innovation, for technology.

Prime Minister Modi was expected to visit the tech hubs in the U.K. What kind of technology collaborations do you aim to forge?

London is Europe’s biggest tech hub... we’ve got London tech week coming up in June, which is Europe’s biggest tech festival. The ‘India Emerging 20’ competition that we hold is looking for companies that are looking to globalise. It is a very tailored support in terms of seeking finance and marketing and business insights and advice to help a company set up in London and get going. And we’re looking for companies that are at the right stage of their business to be able to take advantage of that. But particularly coming from sectors such as life sciences, biotech, med-tech, creative services, fintech, edtech and all those kind of enterprise B2B solutions, where London is really a world-class hub for that kind of thing. So, bringing Indian talent to be part of that ecosystem is what this programme is all about.

The trade between the U.K. and India was at £19.4 billion in 2011, but didn’t it touch only £18 billion in 2017?

I think there were global downturns as well. I don’t think it was specific to the relationship, but correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s how I understand it. I think in terms of the relationship that London has with India and certainly our relationship with India, the demand has been significant. I mean, so much so that we’re in the process of opening up a new office here in Bengaluru and we’re also expanding our teams elsewhere in India. So for us, I mean, this is an important market but is [now] only getting more important. We’re certainly not concerned about downturn... we’re preparing for growth or trying to catch up with growth, you know it’s [India] is such a fast-growing economy.

The India-U.K. free trade agreement has been on the anvil for a long time. Wouldn’t Britain have to offer easier and more visas?

I actually put this question to our Brexit minister (David Davis) a couple of weeks ago, who gave me an answer on the record. But I was asking him specifically around... how we continue to attract global talent to the U.K.? and his response was that any system will be based [on] economic needs for the country and at the moment, the immigration system has a difference because of being involved in [EU] and has different requirements. I know this is an issue that’s very close to the Mayor of London’s heart in terms of lobbying very hard to reinstate the post-study work visa, which I know is incredibly important to Indians. This is an issue which will evolve actually in the coming months, but is something that is recognised to be incredibly important. We have very big campaign ‘London is open’... it’s about attracting international talent to London, recognising not only the economic requirements of a global city, but also cultural and creative benefits.

Some experts also predict that U.K. leaving EU would remove obstacles to negotiate the long-stalled EU-India FTA. What’s your take?

I would say any free trade agreement is an incredibly complex issue. You have got multiple competing interests and of course, even with India, the States will have different requirements as well. So I don’t think it’s easy on either side. When people talk about ‘Brexit’— London, the U.K., has such a strong business ecosystem — and it’s easy to let the politics sometimes get out of hand. It makes a lot of sense for the U.K. economy to be strong, the European economy to be strong. Those two are very interlinked. They are now, they will be in the future and have strong relationships with countries like India, which again is ready, one of the world’s biggest economies. I see business in a very pragmatic positive way, as opposed to a kind of zero-sum competitive way. Particularly when we are dealing with not only business growth, but some quite big issues that come out of the fourth industrial revolution, automation, environment, climate change, technology lifting people out of poverty. These are really big collaborative things and so I try to see these things in a very positive way, as opposed to zero-sum and even though the politics will obviously go up and down in negotiation, I think ultimately pragmatism will win out.

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 4:32:57 PM |

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