The relationship between Britain and India is warm and based on deep cultural, historical and, above all, personal roots. From the over one million people of Indian descent living in Britain to our strong democracies and our shared love of cricket, we have so much in common.
And this friendship and partnership between our two countries is now stronger and more important than ever before. This is a view, I know, shared by the Indian government and which is why I look forward to welcoming Manmohan Singh to London this week for the third annual UK-India summit.
We will have a great deal to talk about. Our economies are increasingly linked. Trade between our two countries is growing at 20 per cent a year. We are the third largest foreign investor in India — and are keen to invest more. There are already 500 Indian companies operating in Britain, with investment of over £ 1 billion last year alone. But we cannot be complacent. So we will talk this week about identifying new avenues for bilateral investment and how we can remove obstacles that prevent increased partnership. This includes looking at how we can work together to open up markets in India. With planned infrastructure projects in India expected to need investments of
$ 150 billion over the next decade, this is in both our interests. That is true as well of finding ways to use India’s growing know-how and innovation to strengthen Britain’s science base.
All these economic links are, of course, based to a great deal on the multitude of personal connections — of family and friendship — between our countries. Britain would be poorer in every way without the immense contribution of the 2 per cent of our population with roots in India. And these connections also continue to strengthen.
Britain issues more visas — more than 300, 000 — to Indians than to citizens of any other country. And even more Britons — 600,000 — travel to India each year. Since the first UK-India Summit in 2004, the number of direct flights between our two countries has quadrupled.
There are growing links between universities, colleges and schools, helped by the UK-India Education and Research Initiative, which is funded by both our countries. Over 20,000 Indian students will study this year in Britain and we want to see more British students travelling the other way to take advantage of India’s world-class institutions.
On foreign policy and defence, too, we are cooperating more than ever before. We are both working hard to find a fair and lasting solution to the world trade negotiations. We cooperate, too, on issues such as security and terrorism, which have an impact on both our global and domestic agendas.
India, of course, is one of the world’s modern success stories. It is the world’s largest democracy, a rich, diverse and tolerant society and is rapidly becoming an economic powerhouse. Britain strongly supports India’s bid for a permanent place on the UN Security Council and insisted on India’s attendance at the G8 summit in Gleneagles. It was under our EU presidency as well that a framework was agreed upon for a comprehensive partnership between the EU and India.
So our two countries have a big agenda this week. But we also have strong foundations on which to build. For just as both countries’ success has been based on combining change with tradition, so too will our friendship and partnership.
Tony Blair is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.