Retrospective tax, labour mobility top issues discussed at UK-India CEOs meet

By UK India Business Council (UKIBC)

The issue of retrospective taxation in India, and labour mobility in the UK were among the issues raised by Indian and British chief executives during a round table discussion with the two Prime Ministers during the bilateral that took place earlier this week.

These issues, alongside recommendations on ways in which the countries could jointly enhance data protection, and collaborate on technology and innovation were discussed at the UK-India CEOs forum, attended by Narendra Modi and Theresa May, as part of a programme aimed at helping the countries resolve outstanding barriers to trade and investment, as well as look at opportunities and broader ways in which the two economies could take a leadership role in wider international challenges, through recommendations from top business leaders in the two countries. The forum, which involved around 30 CEOs from India and the UK, took place on Wednesday, on the bilateral leg of Modi’s visit to London for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

“This was the fourth CEO forum and was the one with the best dynamics and most positivity,” said Kevin McCole, Chief Operation Officer at the UK India Business Council, which convenes the forum. Following discussions between the CEOs, the results of the discussions were presented to the two Prime Ministers, and a letter summarising the discussions and recommendations will also be sent to both leaders.

The CEOs were headed by Sir Gerry Grimstone, Chairman of Standard Life Aberdeen, and Ajay Piramal, Chairman of Piramal Enterprises. Other participating companies included Vodafone, Diageo, BAE Systems, GSK, Reckitt Benckiser, JCB, BP, Bharti, HAL and Bharat Forge.

“Businesses felt that the retrospective tax issue cast a cloud over investor confidence and there were repeated requests to look at the issue and that in both cases in existence the arbitration processes should be allowed to proceed,” McCole said of one of the issues raised by the UK side.

Tech sector workers

Indian business leaders also raised the issue of mobility for those in professional services in the UK, including around costs and the need of technology sector workers to pay National Insurance contributions, despite being in the country for short periods. “These were the nitty gritty issues that impact the cost of business and can really make a difference,” he said. “Visas for Indians has been a recurring theme of the forum so it was good to learn that Indian get [tier 2] work visas than the rest of the world, which was positively received, though Indian businesses would, of course, like to see more movement on that.” He said while concerns around student visas remained, there was optimism about a rise in the number of Indian students coming to the UK in 2017, and a pilot programme that enabled international students at some institutions to stay for longer periods after completing their degree. “These are things the CEOs have been pushing.”

Joint principles

“Both sides took the points on board and welcomed the recommendations.” CEOs also pointed to the potential for joint principles on data privacy and data management standards and storage. “If the two countries could collaborate on world leading principles this is something the rest of the world could follow,” he said. There were also discussions around the strengthening of IP protection enforcement in India. “IP protection has to be strong and the enforcement has to catch up with the laws, which are very strong.” Other issues discussed included opportunities for tech collaboration, including the creation of a virtual incubator for UK-Indian start-ups and links up between universities, advanced manufacturing, autonomous and electric vehicles, and the life sciences.

“The meeting was particularly positive partly because some of the previous recommendations have been adopted by governments,” he said pointing to the UK-India tech partnership that was announced during the trip, and efforts to build connections between the start-up ecosystems in the two countries. The next forum is set to take place in six months-time.

Trade review

With Britain signalling renewed interest in a stronger bilateral trade relationship with India following Brexit, a joint trade review was initiated by the two governments to examine post-Brexit opportunities, while Modi said during his current visit that he stood ready to negotiate a free trade agreement with Britain, once it exits the EU.

Original article published by The Hindu: Business Line can be found here.

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