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British Prime Minister Theresa May Eyes Stronger Trade Ties with India Post Brexit

India wants to expand trade ties with Britain, it also wants easier access for its students and skilled workers

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FILE- Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing street in London, July 20, 2016. VOA
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November 6, 2016: British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives in India Sunday on her first bilateral visit outside the European Union to lay the groundwork for stronger trade ties post Brexit with the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

But India will press the British leader on tighter visa rules that have diminished the number of Indian students going to British universities and that could impact Indian professionals in the country.

Ahead of the visit, the British leader said the trip was about “expanding our horizons and forging stronger partnerships with countries around the world” following Britain’s exit from the European Union.

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In India, immigration concerns

In New Delhi, observers say the visit will test how stricter immigration policies will impact Britain’s efforts to build stronger business partnerships.

While India wants to expand trade ties with Britain, it also wants easier access for its students and skilled workers.

Ahead of the visit, India foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup underlined those concerns, saying, “Indian students and people-to-people relations are important pillars of India-UK ties … we expect mobility issues to be raised during this visit.”

He said restrictions have impacted Indian students staying in Britain after graduation.

“In the last year or so, the number of Indian students enrolling in U.K. universities has gone down by almost 50 percent from around 40,000 to around 20,000 now,” he said.

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Those restrictions were introduced into legislation by May when she was interior minister. Changes to visa rules announced last week also will impact Indian professionals in Britain.

“The impression Britain is giving to countries such as India is, we want your business but we don’t want your people,” said London-based political strategist Manoj Ladwa in the Hindu newspaper.

Both sides seek trade deals

However expanding trade ties with Britain is a priority for India, which is the third largest investor in Britain with about 800 Indian companies operating there. Britain is also a major investor in India.

There will be no trade deals on the table during the visit because Britain cannot formally negotiate these until it officially leaves the European Union, but the two countries will explore the possibility of a free trade deal post Brexit.

And while New Delhi has struggled to seal a free trade pact with the European Union for years, it might be easier to do it with Britain, which shares historical ties with India dating back to the colonial era.

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“This is a partnership about our shared security and shared prosperity. It is a partnership of potential. And on this visit I intend to harness that potential, rebooting an age-old relationship,” May said in a statement ahead of the visit.

The British leader is scheduled to address a trade-focused technology seminar in New Delhi, meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday and visit India’s IT hub of Bengaluru on Tuesday.

May is accompanied by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, Trade Minister Greg Hands, and business leaders from medium- and small-sized companies. (VOA)

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India-Russia Sign An Air Defense System Deal

Putin said that Russia places a top priority on its India relationship and the two countries had concurrent positions on key global issues.

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Russian S-400 air defense missile systems are on display during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in Red Square in Moscow, Russia. VOA

India has signed a deal worth more than $5 billion to buy five sophisticated air defense missile systems from Russia that could trigger sanctions by the United States.

The agreement for the purchase of the S-400 surface-to-air missile systems was sealed Friday in New Delhi as Russian President Vladimir Putin visited India and held a summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Although the deal was not mentioned when the two leaders appeared before reporters, a joint statement after the talks said that the two sides welcomed the agreement.

The deal, said analysts, demonstrates that India is seeking a balance as it steadily grows strategic ties with Washington, but is unwilling to forgo its long-standing defense partnership with Russia.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrive ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, VOA

Washington has warned that the purchase of the air defense system would be a “significant transaction” violating a U.S. law passed last year under which countries trading with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors face the threat of sanctions.

New Delhi, which does not want to jeopardize its growing ties with Washington, is optimistic about avoiding U.S. sanctions.

In talks with U.S. officials, India has stressed its need for the air defense system to strengthen its capabilities against the might of China, whose ambitions are moving New Delhi and Washington closer.

“If the U.S. thinks India is an important partner in the Indo Pacific, they will find a way out,” said political analyst Manoj Joshi at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, pointing out that India is not bound to follow U.S. law.

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Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, wikimedia commons

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, Jinnie Lee, said that the law is “not intended to impose damage to the military capabilities of our allies or partners.” She did not comment on the deal, but said that any waivers would be considered on a transaction by transaction basis.

U.S. officials have said there is no guarantee of a waiver from the Trump administration, which has imposed sanctions on China’s military for the purchase of the same system. The deal figured in discussions in New Delhi when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited India last month.

Indian Air Force Chief B.S. Dhanoa has said that the S-400 system would be a “booster shot” for the Indian air force. The S-400 is Russia’s most advanced long-range, surface-to-air missile system and can take down enemy aircraft from the ground.

India is the world’s largest purchaser of arms and Russia its biggest supplier. In recent years, the U.S. has also become a significant source, with purchases adding up to $15 billion over the past decade.

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Mr. Narendra Modi

Political analyst Joshi said the deal would help restore ties between India and Moscow on an even keel — relations between the Cold War allies had cooled somewhat in recent years as New Delhi’s ties with Washington blossomed. The contract for the air defense system is one of the largest handed out by India.

After the summit, Modi spoke of a “trusted” and “special and privileged partnership” with Moscow as he addressed reporters along with Putin.

“Russia has stood by India through time and has played a crucial role in India’s growth story,” he said.

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Putin said that Russia places a top priority on its India relationship and the two countries had concurrent positions on key global issues.

Eight agreements signed by the two countries include pacts for Moscow to build six nuclear power plants in India and cooperate with the Indian space agency in sending a manned mission to space. (VOA)