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Last updated: February 18, 2013 12:06 pm
David Cameron has urged India to dismantle trade barriers in banking and insurance in exchange for Britain making it easier for business leaders and students to come to the UK.
Speaking in Mumbai on Monday at the start of a three-day visit to India, Mr Cameron announced plans for a one-day visa service for Indian business people who needed to come to Britain at short notice.
Mr Cameron hopes the initiative will reassure investors that the UK is not becoming more hostile to Indian migrants, in spite of the prime minister’s much tougher rhetoric on immigration before he left Britain.
Addressing workers at Hindustan Unilever, he also repeated his assurance that there was “no limit” on the number of Indian students who could study in Britain, provided they had a basic English qualification and the offer of a place.
Mr Cameron presented these assurances as evidence that Britain was lowering barriers to trade – although his comments on student visas was a restatement of existing policy – and he urged India to follow suit in areas including financial services and retail.
The prime minister proclaimed Britain’s 21 per cent rate of corporation tax as an attraction for Indian inward investors, adding that the rate was so low that there was no excuse for companies to avoid tax aggressively.
“There are some forms of tax avoidance that have been so aggressive there are moral questions,” he said.
Mr Cameron said he wanted Britain to be India’s “partner of choice” and is being accompanied by a delegation of 100 business leaders, academics and parliamentarians – the largest such overseas trade mission.
The prime minister also hopes British architects and contractors will play a leading role in developing a corridor of business and housing between Mumbai and Bangalore, two of India’s main economic powerhouses.
Before he left Britain, Mr Cameron was warned against giving two different messages on immigration ahead of his visit.
John Cridland, head of the CBI employers’ organisation, said there was “a real risk” of mixed messages arising if Mr Cameron and fellow ministers did not make it clear that Indian students are welcome and make a valuable contribution.
Last week Mr Cameron upped his rhetoric on immigration at the Eastleigh by-election, saying that the UK could not be seen as a “soft touch” and vowing to restrict access to healthcare, housing, benefits and legal aid for migrants.
Mr Cridland, who is part of the business delegation, acknowledged Mr Cameron’s dilemma in trying to find language to satisfy his Indian hosts, British business leaders and voters in Eastleigh.
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