May Flies to India to Prepare for Trade Deal After Brexit

  • Diageo, Standard Chartered, Aviva leaders on U.K. mission
  • Deals creating 1,370 U.K. jobs to be signed, government says

Prime Minister Theresa May flew on Sunday to India, a nation she called a “key strategic partner,” to prepare the ground for one of Britain’s key trade agreements after it quits the European Union.

The premier will arrive in New Delhi with Trade Secretary Liam Fox and a delegation of 33 business leaders to cement links with the world’s fastest-growing major economy and seek to remove barriers to British companies winning contracts.

Theresa May and Liam Fox depart for India on Nov. 6.

Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

“I’m very pleased that this is my first bilateral visit outside of Europe and it’s to India,” May said Sunday at Heathrow Airport. “I’m pleased also that I’m taking a number of businesses with me -- not just large businesses but small and medium-sized businesses as well, because there are huge opportunities for British business in trading with India, and we know that we have significant investment here in the U.K. from India.”

The visit will include signing commercial agreements that will create as many as 1,370 U.K. jobs, according to a statement issued before she departed.

While Britain isn’t permitted to open negotiations with India over a trade deal until it has formally started proceedings to leave the EU, May will use talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to explore what a post-Brexit relationship might look like, according to a person familiar with her plans.

Modi’s Reforms

Britain will offer to support Modi’s plans for reform to regulation and tax procedures to help make India a more attractive business partner. May will also seek to pave the way for British companies to gain from India’s planned investment in health, skills and infrastructure, the official said.

Fox, who will lead the charge for trade deals around the world after Britain starts the process of leaving the EU by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, has praised India as a beacon of free trade.

“In 1993, around 45 percent of India’s population sat below the poverty line, in 2011 it was 22 percent -– and it is no coincidence that in the intervening period India embraced globalization and started to liberalize its economy,” he said in a speech in Manchester on Sept. 29. “Ask yourself whether there has been a greater emancipator of the world’s poor than free trade.”

India has the second-biggest army in the world and is the largest importer of military equipment. Fox, a former defense secretary, will make the case for British armaments and aerospace companies to have a bigger share of the market.

Executives from Diageo Plc, Lloyd’s of London, Standard Chartered Plc and Aviva Plc are among those with May on the trip, according to the government statement.

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