India on Monday asked the UK to offer a more liberalised visa regime, stressing any selective free trade arrangement, without making the movement of skilled professionals and students easier, is undesirable.
For its part, the UK showed willingness to consider an improved visa deal, albeit with some conditions, and sought faster resolution of the tax cases involving Vodafone and Cairn Energy in India, as British Prime Minister Theresa May sought greater cooperation on her first bilateral trip outside Europe since Britons voted on June 23 to exit the European Union.
Both countries are expected to ink business deals worth more than £1 billion (R8,300 crore) during May’s three-day visit. The British Prime Minister said she and Modi have agreed on a new partnership that will bring together government, investors and experts to work together on urban development, unlocking opportunities worth £2 billion for British businesses over the next five years. The UK seems to have particular interest in such initiatives in Madhya Pradesh and Varanasi (smart city project).
Both sides agreed not to allow fugitives and criminals escape the law and vowed to expedite extradition requests. So India can expect an early extradition of industrialist Vijay Mallya and former IPL chief Lalit Modi from the UK to face probes in money-laundering cases here.
Also, since the launch of the first masala bond in London in July, rupee-denominated bonds worth over £900 million have now been issued, May said. “And we expect a further four bonds with a total value of £600 million to be issued in the next three months,” she added. “This is a vote of confidence in India’s growth story. And it’s a vote of confidence in London as the world’s leading financial centre.”
The two sides are working towards developing skills, investing in infrastructure and supporting the technologies of the future, she added.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said both the countries must “encourage greater mobility and participation of young explored people in education and research opportunities.” Separately, at the CII-Tech summit, NITI Aayog chief executive Amitabh Kant went a step further, saying: “The UK cannot remain a great country if it doesn’t allow the best people in the world to come in.”
Industrialist Swati Piramal added to the debate, saying, “Connections between people, cities and countries will make us flourish.” She shared how Piramal bought a medicine company in Newcastle and is exporting to more than 100 countries now.
Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal, too, emphasised the importance of free movement of people, but downplayed the concerns on the recent changes in the UK visa policy pertaining to Tier 2 intra-company transfer. “They (the changes) are on the margin… It is a small amount… It is not something that shakes the needle…”
After her meeting with Modi, May said: “The UK will consider further improvements to our visa offer if, at the same time, we can step up the speed and volume of returns of Indians with no right to remain.”
The UK also announced an easier visa regime for short-term travels and business trips under the “Registered Traveller Scheme”, which will facilitate significantly easier entry process and swifter passage through British airports, for the frequent Indian business travellers.
The two countries also sought to enhance cooperation on ease of doing business, intellectual property rights (IPR), defence through ‘Make in India’, technology transfer and joint research on new capabilities. Both the countries signed agreements on IPR and ease of doing business.
Briefing reporters, commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the joint working group on trade should not only focus on ways to increase trade in goods but also on the expansion of services trade, including through greater mobility of skilled professionals.
The UK has also agreed to invest £120 million in a joint fund that will lever private sector investment from the City of London to finance Indian infrastructure.
On tax issues, Sitharaman said: “Their request was at least in the Vodafone case, would we (India) please not delay or would you (India) please expedite the arbitration, so that (the case) gets closure.”
“I reaffirmed this government’s commitment that we shall not take the retrospective taxation route and we also have in this government explain that we believe in a simplified taxation structure framework,” she said. The minister said that when NDA government came in power in 2014, both the matters were sub judice or under arbitration. “We had a limitation that we could not go in dealing with those specific issues which were under arbitration. Anything which was leading towards it or around it, we tried removing it and cleansing it and making it simpler,” she said.
“I certainly assured them that I will pass it on to the finance ministry,” she said.
Cairn Energy and Vodafone have invoked bilateral investment treaty and served arbitration notice to India over tax disputes. While the tax demand on Cairn Energy is R10,247 crore, that on Vodafone is R14,200 crore.