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UK leader to visit India next week

According to Cameron's report, UK businessmen should utilise the vast economic opportunities in India.

india Updated: Aug 31, 2006 11:08 IST

Pepped up by latest popularity ratings, Conservative party leader David Cameron is visiting India next week as part of his efforts to appear more vocal on international issues.

Eton and Oxford-educated Cameron, who turns 40 on October 9, presents a youthful contrast to the increasingly harried-looking Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is currently facing renewed demands to announce his plans to quit office.

Cameron will be accompanied to India by the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, 35. During their four-day visit, the two Tory leaders will visit New Delhi, Mumbai and Pune and meet several Indian functionaries, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Days before he embarks on the India visit, one of Cameron's economic policy groups has come out with a report that claims that British businesses had been "slow to embrace the vast opportunities" offered by India, and accused the Labour government of complacency in addressing the issue.

The report, by the party's Economic Competitiveness Policy Group, urges British universities to offer more scholarships and bursaries to Indian students and suggested a cut tax on profits of small businesses to boost inward investment, particularly from India.

The group led by John Redwood, has recommended to the party to review a 19 per cent tax rate imposed by Labour on small business dividends in 2004. The tax, it said, needed "simplification or flattening" to attract more investment in small and medium-sized enterprises.

Urging British businessmen to shed their "chronic aversion to risk in India" and to take advantage of the huge opportunity presented by its rapid economic expansion, the report singles out telecom as one sector in which, experienced British companies could build a strong presence in India. It also noted opportunities for manufacturing, computing, biotech and retail firms.

The report also urges Brit universities to offer more scholarships and bursaries to Indian students, and alleges that the universities had been "very slow to enter India," in contrast with American institutions.

The report suggests that the Department of Trade and Industry spend more on the Indo-British Partnership Network, whose 100,000 pound budget is dwarfed by the 4 million pound budget for the China-Britain Business Council.

Redwood said,"The Indian economy is growing rapidly. We set out in this paper how British business could be an important partner in India, in trade, investment and technology. Britain-Indian links are strong. They should provide a firm foundation for many more profitable partnerships.

"We highlight the successes achieved so far, and urge others to go and see for themselves. India is now truly a land of opportunity. Hurry while the chances remain. Anglo-Indian business is now a two-way street that can profit both sides."

After taking over as Conservative leader from Michael Howard in last December, Cameron has succeeded in creating ripples among the ruling Labour, but not many are still convinced that he represents a serious alternative to Blair or the latter's possible successor, Gordon Brown, the current chancellor.

In July, Cameron took many by surprise by turning up at a religious function of prominent Indian preacher Morari Bapu in Leicester and lavished praise on Britain's Hindu community as part of his bid to woo the large British Asian vote.

But even as he takes on Blair and Labour in domestic British politics, Cameron faces criticism that he has not been as vocal on international issues. To counter such charges, he has set in motion a series of international initiatives, including a visit last week to South Africa where he met Nelson Mandela.

After meeting Mandela, he famously admitted that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was wrong to brand Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) as "terrorists" during the struggle against apartheid.

A Conservative party spokeswoman said: "Going there demonstrates the importance that he places in Britain's relationship with India, and in particular the links that could develop between the City of London and Mumbai because of the emerging financial services industry there."