UK-India Trade, Investment and Partnerships as a Force for Global Good

By Trisha Nagpal, Kevin McCole

Written By- Kevin McCole

One of the highlights of my recent visit to India was the UKIBC’s Sustainable Development Alliance event in Delhi. Before, during and in the weeks after this fantastic evening, I had really interesting and passionate discussions with businesses and universities about what they and their counterparts are doing, and plan to do, to improve lives and livelihoods.

It is clear that as well as providing support to India’s impressive economic growth, companies and higher education institutions are contributing to the achievement of a wide range of the SDGs in India. Indeed, in many cases, UK and Indian organisations are collaborating on technologies that will bring benefits across the world, particularly the developing world. More on that later.

First though, it is worth noting the Indian Government’s view of business’s role in society and of India’s role in the world.


Prime Minister Modi’s Focus on Development During India’s G20 Presidency

The SDGs and improving livelihoods featured strongly in Prime Minister Modi’s address at the G20 Summit in September when he told other leaders that he has “continuously drawn attention to a human-centric vision rather than a GDP-centric approach”.

Earlier, at the B20 Summit in August, PM Modi urged businesses from across the world to consider the contribution they are making to society:

“A profitable market can be sustained when there is a balance in the interests of producers and consumers. This also applies to nations. Treating other countries only as a market will never work. It will harm even the producing countries sooner or later. Making everyone equal partners in progress is the way forward.”

I heard echoes of PM Modi’s point in the recently published book, “Growth: A Reckoning”, in which Professor Daniel Susskind argues that economic growth is critical, but it has to be the right kind of growth – environmentally sustainable and spurred by innovation rather than extraction – if society is going to benefit.

The Prime Minister’s emphasis on development – globally and in India – is important. While there has been great progress in India in recent years, there is still some way to go in key development areas like healthcare, education, inequality, gender equality, and infrastructure.

In building its relationship with India, the UK’s business and political leaders need to be sensitive to India’s developing status. They also need to know how India’s role in the world has changed and continues to evolve.


India in the World

India’s Presidency of the G20, its successful lunar mission, the fact that it is benefitting – geo-politically and economically – from the friction between the US/West and China, and a visible increase in India’s influence in the world have boosted the confidence and pride Indians have in their country. The rest of the world is also paying attention and considering the implications.

What India’s leaders said and did during 2023 was telling.

For instance, in his speech at the UN General Assembly in September, Foreign Minister Jaishankar said:

“From an era of non-aligned, we have evolved Vishwa Mitra – friend of the world………India will engage with a broad range of nations and, where necessary, harmonise interests……. The goal we have set ourselves will make us different from all those whose rise preceded ours.”

This approach has been seen in action, as India has partnered effectively with developed and developing nations.

For example, with developed nations, India is a member of the security grouping – the QUAD – with the US, Japan and Australia. It has negotiated FTAs with Australia, the UAE, and EFTA, and has ongoing negotiations with the EU and the UK. And at the 2023 G20 Summit, India announced the India – Middle East – Europe Economic Corridor.

Significant as this is, India is arguably even more active with the developing world as it:

–        secured the African Union a permanent place in the G20;

–        has initiated development partnerships with 78 countries;

–        hosted a Voice of the Global South Summit for 125 countries at the start of its G20 Presidency; and, also at the G20,

–        initiated partnerships on Digital Public Infrastructure to support achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

India, as can be seen from these examples, is seeking to be a force for global good, supporting the development of the Global South, as well as accelerating its own development.


What does this mean for the UK?

For the UK to be a partner in the development of India and its partners in the Global South, business and political leaders need to have a clear understanding of India’s priorities and where it is on its development journey. They also need to be willing to commit to engaging for the long term. My recent blog proposing a UK-India Roadmap 2047 makes this case.

As is clear from our Sustainable Development Alliance, many UK businesses and universities are already aligned with India’s priorities and are making a difference.

UK companies are heavily invested in all of India’s states and Union Territories. As well as supporting the economy and employing more than 666,000 people across the country (with many more indirectly), these companies are contributing to India’s socio-economic development.  Their programmes – some of which are described in our recently published casebook – range from sustainability and climate action to education and healthcare.

Is there more than can be done?

I think there are three broad areas where the UK and India can collaborate and be a force for global good.

The India-UK FTA

First, the UK-India FTA should be mindful of the SDGs, for example, gender equality (SDG 5), decent work and economic growth (DG 8) and responsible consumption and production (SDG 12).

Trade and development are closely linked, so the FTA is an opportunity for the UK and India to show joint leadership in this important area.

More of the Same

Companies and universities should expand the impressive initiatives already underway, some of which are CSR-driven and some of which are core business activities – such as energy transition – that are improving livelihoods.

I want to particularly mention that UK academia are already working on a myriad of projects in India with Indian partners – academic institutions and industry. We showcased a selection of these at a recent roundtable at the Indian High Commission in London. The examples shared that day were so compelling we have decided to publish a report later this year that capture these brilliant projects.

This leads me to the third way in which the UK and India can be a force for global good.

Another Global Game Changer

Rightly, much has been said about the Oxford University-Astra Zeneca-Serum Institute of India partnership on COVID-19 vaccines. This is perhaps the most significant example of the benefits of UK-India R&D collaboration.

Beyond vaccines, there are other global challenges that the UK and India can address in partnership. For example, food security, energy transition and climate change, and other health challenges. The UK’s tech alongside India’s innovators, domestic scale and ability to reach into the rest of the developing world are a powerful combination.

So, good things are already happening. And, as ever with the UK-India partnership, there is potential to do so much more. Indeed, on this occasion, it is imperative that much more is done.

What Happens Next?

In partnership, governments, businesses, and universities all have important roles to play.

In our own way, we at the UKIBC will catalyse and encourage.

For example, our forthcoming report showcasing UK-India academic/industry partnerships will hopefully stimulate more collaborations among brilliant scientists, engineers and innovators to tackle global challenges.

In the same vain, our Sustainable Development Alliance will hopefully encourage ever more businesses to do ever more to help achieve the SDG in India and, indeed, spread this good practice across the developing world.

Of course, though, it is governments that can play the most significant role by providing incentives and R&D grants to catalyse collaboration. So, after the UK and Indian general elections this year, a refreshed and expanded UK-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership should include objectives on development and the SDGs, focussing on facilitating partnerships with businesses, and stimulating the co-creation of new technology that can produce another global game changer.

Get a free consultation with one of our India Advisers

All personal data herein are processed in accordance with UK data protection legislation. All feasible security measures are in place. You may withdraw consent at any time in the future.