Blair: Booming India now a business partner

Prime Minister Tony Blair, eager to bolster Europe’s business ties with India, will argue today that the West should embrace the booming nation’s emergence as an economic powerhouse, rather than fearing it as a job-stealing threat.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, eager to bolster Europe’s business ties with India, will argue today that the West should embrace the booming nation’s emergence as an economic powerhouse, rather than fearing it as a job-stealing threat.

Mr Blair, who arrived in New Delhi after two days of trade-focused meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing, says wealthy nations must adapt to the fast-moving changes of economic globalisation by building close relationships with new trading partners.

He will lead an annual European Union meeting with India’s leaders today and join British-Indian talks tomorrow at Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh’s retreat in the Himalayas. Britain holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

Mr Blair is travelling with a delegation of European business leaders, who will meet Indian executives during the New Delhi summit. Together the Chinese and Indian visits were expected to generate about £2m (€2.94m) of new business for EU companies.

“India is now the fastest-growing democratic free market country in the world”, making business co-operation more important than ever, Mr Blair’s spokesman said.

Many in Europe fear a loss of jobs to India, where many Western companies are shifting parts of their operations, such as call centres.

India, rather than looking to Britain and the EU for a helping hand, as it might have done a decade ago, comes to this week’s talks seeking ways they can work together to boost business and increase prosperity on all sides.

“There is a clear attitude change towards India, which is reflected in Britain treating India as an equal partner,” said Charan Wadhwa, a trade analyst at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. “There is a realisation that India has arrived on the scene.”

New Delhi is eager for European expertise and investment in improving its infrastructure and gaining access to clean energy supplies, two areas analysts see as crucial to keeping its strong growth on track.

India is clearly a confident nation at the top of its game – economic growth is pegged at 7% this year, its first aircraft carrier is being built, and a seat on the United Nations Security Council is in the offing.

Direct ties – business, cultural and personal – between Britain and its former colony have been strong for years. There are a million Britons of Indian descent, and travel between the nations is heavy.

They are to sign a new air services treaty allowing for more flights and a film industry pact that will make it easier for Indian and British investors to put money in one another’s movie-making ventures, Mr Blair’s spokesman said.

Environmental issues are also on the agenda.

Mr Blair pushed China to sign an accord on fighting global warming and also hopes to discuss the issue with Singh.

Mr Blair pressed hard for action on climate change at the G8 summit of wealthy countries in July, and the group said it would seek to engage China, India and other developing nations in talks on climate change. As fast-growing economies, they’re likely to need increasing amounts of energy and therefore emit more of the pollution blamed for rising temperatures.

Mr Blair’s spokesman said the Prime Minister also wanted to discuss plans to overhaul the structure of the United Nations, an issue that will be on the table at a big UN meeting in New York next week. India is eager to secure a permanent seat on the powerful security council.

The two prime ministers will also discuss India’s burgeoning Aids crisis, Mr Blair’s spokesman says. The country has one of the largest HIV-infected populations in the world.

While in India, Mr Blair also plans to meet Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam, Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi and former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani, the country’s top opposition figure.

Before the summit's start, Mr Blair and his wife Cherie placed a wreath at a memorial to Mohandas Gandhi and then threw red rose petals on to the black marble monument, near the site of the Indian independence leader's cremation in 1948.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner also placed a wreath.

“The principles in which he lived his life will endure forever; namely that the ultimate salvation for humanity comes when people of all colours, race, nations and religions learn to live in peace and harmony with each other,” the Prime Minister wrote in a visitors’ book.

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