Brexit means Britain can ‘join’ the booming Indian economy and benefit from its success, Rishi Sunak has said.
On his first visit to the country as prime minister, Mr Sunak said Britain’s recently won freedom to sign trade deals with countries such as India was one of the reasons he supported leaving the EU.
India’s success as the world’s fastest growing economy now presents an “exciting opportunity for Britain”.
Mr Sunak also said he found it “inspiring” to see India focusing on educating children in maths and engineering, suggesting Britain could learn from the country’s example.
The prime minister’s comments came as Britain tries to strike a trade deal with India amid disagreements over issues such as alcohol tariffs and British demands to curb production of cheap generic drugs.
On Friday, Mr Sunak insisted he would “not sacrifice quality for speed” when negotiating a deal, after refusing to offer more work and student visas to secure a deal.
On Saturday, Downing Street said Mr Sunak and Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, had agreed at a meeting at the G20 summit in New Delhi to “continue to work at pace” towards a deal.
The pair hugged as Mr Sunak said: “It’s so nice to be here.” Mr Modi noted that his counterpart, the first British Prime Minister of Indian origin, had received a “warm welcome” in India.
The prime minister said he cited Britain’s ability to control its own trade policies when asked about his reasons for supporting Brexit during the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.
He said: “I think this is an advantage because it is countries like India and the East, more broadly, the Asia-Pacific, that will be disproportionately responsible for global growth in the coming decades.
“So it is very important to be able to attach ourselves to that. It is not a given with this deal, there is a lot of hard work to be done. But if it were successful, it would be another way in which we would commit to the growth of the fastest growing region in the world.”
Mr Sunak added on India: “It is, I think, almost inevitable that India will become one of the most important countries geopolitically in the coming years and decades.
‘To get a sense of that… I met with a bunch of schoolchildren who were doing programs at the British Council. That’s the future of India – just talking to those kids and just seeing their confidence, their hunger and frankly their aptitude.
“Here’s the thing about India: it has one of the youngest populations, and also one of the largest populations, and that will drive growth in the coming years.
“That’s an exciting opportunity for Britain. That is why it is important that we deepen our ties, and especially our economic ties, with India. It is a great thing for the world that India is going to grow like this. But that’s also good for Britain because we can hopefully be part of that, hopefully support India’s growth and development, but also benefit from it, and so the trade deal will help us do that.
“That’s honestly one of the benefits of Brexit.”
Mr Sunak cited India’s focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects as one of the reasons for the country’s rapid growth. In Great Britain he previously announced plans for a form of compulsory mathematics education until the age of 18.
He said: “There are many different reasons for the growth. There are a billion people here, so that helps, and it’s a very young population.
“But one of the things I took away from it, and that’s why I talk about it a lot, is about the importance of an economy based on high-quality education and in particular STEM [when you look at] what drives India’s growth.”
Referring to his visit to meet children taking part in British Council programs in New Delhi, Mr Sunak added: “This is truly inspiring… India is blessed with an incredible amount of talent when it comes to science, mathematics and technology. These skills will only become more relevant in the future economy. India has them in abundance. And then I thought one more thing, and this was inspiring yesterday: there were about twenty teachers there, all computer science teachers, technology teachers. Eighteen of them are women.
“So that’s why it’s important that our kids learn more math when I talk about it. [We are] one of the few countries in the world where they can quit math at sixteen and not continue until eighteen. It is based on my understanding and belief about what drives growth in a modern economy.”
India’s GDP has grown by almost seven percent during 2022-23 and is expected to grow by another 6.3 percent in the current financial year.
Analysts have predicted that by 2075 the country will surpass the United States and become the second richest country in the world, behind only China.
The World Bank has said growth is fueled by “strong domestic demand” and “vibrant private consumption” among higher earners.
It added that there was also “strong investment activity, supported by the government’s commitment to infrastructure investment”.
India has embarked on a series of ambitious construction projects, including a new airport in Mumbai that will accommodate 90 million passengers a year.
The country also invests heavily in research and development and recently celebrated the successful landing on the moon.
It is also one of the main emerging centers for new AI technology, which Sunak believes will play a key role in UK growth.
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