THE freer movement of professionals between India and Britain will be pivotal to any mutually beneficial bilateral agreement after Brexit, India’s high commissioner to Britain has said.
YK Sinha added that Indian professionals will play an important role in defining the “contours of a winning partnership between India and the UK” at an event last Wednesday (22).
He was speaking at the launch of the Indian Professionals Forum (IPF), a non-profit think tank that will promote the interests of the Indian diaspora.
Sinha said: “UK and India are important partners in diverse fields… Brexit provides an opportunity to further expand the scale and scope of our vibrant and robust collaboration. The advantage should include freer movement of individual and professionals, especially with the UK leaving the EU.”
He added: “When we look at a winning partnership, we need to see all the facets that we have and what we can do in the future. In future, it is professionals like you, apart from obviously big investors, that will lay down the contours of the winning partnership. It has to be mutually beneficial, it can’t be a one-way street.”
In unusually candid remarks by an Indian diplomat, the high commissioner told the audience at Chatham House in central London: “You’ve all read about issues of freer mobility of professionals, that’s right up there as far as India is concerned. I’m not talking about unfettered access or unrestricted travel, I’m talking about movement of professionals – doctors, IT specialists, technicians, engineers, and I think both sides will benefit by this exchange.
“These are important aspects of what could be a winning partnership by 2030. I do hope we have that partnership much before then, but certainly by 2030, when India would be perhaps the third largest economy in the world.
“It would be a great time to introspect, pause and see where the relationship is headed, but I’m confident that between now and then, we will already see the emergence of this winning partnership.”
Britain is keen on exploring stronger ties with countries outside the EU, and India is among the top nations in that list. However, ministers in the UK have stressed that no deal can be struck before Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.
It didn’t stop prime minister Theresa May from visiting India soon after she became prime minister in July 2016. Visas are a sticking point as the Conservatives want to control migrant numbers and India wants fewer restrictions for its skilled professionals to be able to work and live in the UK.
The Indian community is well regarded in Britain, with high achievers in politics, business and medicine, among other sectors.
According to the latest (2011) Census for England and Wales, Indians are the third largest ethnic group in the country, with 1.4 million people (2.5 per cent of the population). It is estimated that 50 per cent of Britain’s two million Indians are skilled professionals, working in business, government, healthcare, education and technology sectors.
The high commissioner said it was “important that we can look at” how the IPF can help enhance bilateral ties. His office was “happy to support this initiative because it’s important to engage at various levels and to see how we can leverage our strengths to come up with what is today a winning partnership”, Sinha added.
He noted the challenges of negotiating free trade agreements (FTA) and said a winning partnership was more than just an FTA.
“No FTAs are easily negotiated,” Sinha said, adding: “We have very few FTAs in the developed world: nine in all, if I’m not mistaken. But I think there is this great possibility, great political will on both sides to conclude a mutually beneficial agreement.”
A great amount of work being done under the radar, the high commissioner said.
“We have a joint working group that have met a couple of times but there’s a long way to go. We need to wait and see what the contours of the deal with the EU will be before we start serious negotiations.”
The IPF is open to academics, artists, scientists, engineers, business people and entrepreneurs.
Liberal Democrats leader Sir Vince Cable, who also attended the event, said: “India is now a major economic power – on some measures, the third largest in the world after China and the US. It is very much in Britain’s long-term interest to welcome Indian investment, students and professionals, and to have a stronger, deeper relationship with India.”
The president of the new forum, Dr Mohan Kaul, added: “The concept of this forum was prompted by the result of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU last year and seeks to emphasise that, Brexit or no Brexit, the UK will continue to be a destination of choice for Indian professionals.”
The IPF plans to work with the London Business School and the Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad) in skills enhancement and digitisation.