UKIBC hold roundtables for members and clients with UK Trade Commissioner to South Asia, Alan Gemmell

By Kevin McCole

Across two weeks, from 19th to 26th May, the UKIBC hosted four highly-insightful discussions between our members and clients and the UK’s newly appointed Trade Commissioner for South Asia, Mr Alan Gemmell.

First and foremost, we were delighted to welcome Alan to his new role, especially at this critical time for both countries, and indeed the world, in overcoming COVID-19. Alan and the UKIBC go back a number of years, as he was previously the British Council Director in India and then CEO of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. We’re therefore really looking forward to working with him and his team to expand the bilateral trade and investment relationship.

Businesses across sectors from food & drink, to financial and legal services, and manufacturing and energy, briefed Alan of the exciting opportunities in India and the mix of new and persistent challenges they face in India and, indeed, in the UK at this timeThey also offered constructive and practical suggestions on how to improve the business environment. 

These issues range from shipping goods and customs clearances, paperwork/documentary requirements, tax reform and regulatory issues, and limits on foreign companies bidding for public procurement opportunities. 

An important discussion focussed on India’s ambition to play an even larger role in global manufacturing supply chains. It was agreed that India has the potential, but challenges remain, including variable quality across India’s manufacturers.  

Among the measures needed to address this variability are a more widespread application of international standards and more highly skilled engineers. These are two topics that the UKIBC is currently working on: 

  • Standards feature strongly in our ongoing work in the Data and Digital Services and the Healthcare and Life Sciences JETCO Working Groups; and
  • Over the summer, we will be stepping up our activity connecting employers in India to UK universities. 

While the disruption and uncertainty caused by COVID-19 is posing challenges for most businesses, there remains medium and long-term positivity about the opportunities in India. The economic fundaments remain strong, and there is a recognition that the pandemic will pass. 

One sector where there are short-term issues is higher education as the number of Indian (and indeed all international) students starting studies in 2020 is going to drop. After four years of strong growth, this is a blow.  

Providing confidence to prospective students is therefore critical. We have engaged with the UK Home Office on behalf of our members in recent months, particularly asking for greater clarity on the new Graduate Immigration Route to be launched in 2021. (Read more on that here) 

At the same time, universities have quickly adapted to digital delivery of the curriculum and are keen to form partnerships with Indian institutions for this newly critical mode of education. Given regulatory barriers to such partnerships in India, the UKIBC has asked the MHRD for a dialogue on rapid reform to facilitate the collaborations that will give young, ambitious Indians access to top quality learning.  

For me, the over-arching take-away from the roundtable series, and one that demonstrates the importance of business to government dialogue, was the positivity and determination across all participants – industry, the UKIBC and DIT – to work together to succeed in India, creating jobs and prosperity across both countries.  

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