India and the UK are close, but Modi thinks he can bring them even closer

Forging ties.
Forging ties.
Image: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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On his 28th foreign trip since taking office last year, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi landed in the UK yesterday (Nov. 12) with ambitions of sealing business deals worth some $13 billion over three days.

After much upheaval over sectarian violence and an electoral drubbing at home, such deal-making should be a welcome distraction for the prime minister.

On his first day in the UK, Modi and David Cameron, his British counterpart, gave a glimpse of what is in store for the visit. Here are a few important takeaways from their joint statement:

  • India has signed a civil nuclear agreement with the UK
  • The Indian government will set up an offshore rupee bond for the Indian railways
  • Deals worth some £9 billion ($13 billion) are expected to be signed between companies from both countries
  • The UK government will partner the Indian government to develop three “smart cities” in India

If these deals deliver, they will provide a much-needed boost to trade between India and the UK, which has somewhat stagnated in recent years.

Bilateral trade

India isn’t even among the UK’s top 10 trading partners.

India is stuck at the 11th place in the rankings of the UK’s biggest trading partners—for both imports and exports—as China has spectacularly pulled away since 2007.

Amid all the fanfare around Modi’s trip to London, the two leaders would do well to find a way of fixing these numbers.


India’s Tata Group is one of the largest foreign investors and employers in the UK, but corporate investments between the two countries have been rather lacklustre since the Mumbai-headquartered salt-to-steel conglomerate bought Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in 2008.

Nonetheless, the Confederation of British Industry last month claimed that (pdf) the UK was the largest G20 investor in India, having spent more than $22 billion between April 2000 and March 2015, generating over 137,000 jobs in the subcontinent.


The UK is one of the most popular destinations (pdf) for Indian tourists going to Europe. More Indians fly to Britain than from any other country in the BRICS. Even so, Chinese tourists outspend their Indian counterparts in the UK.

Labour force

Indians also hold sway within the UK’s workforce.

In the third quarter of this year, Indians were the third largest ethnic group among the UK’s workforce (after whites and blacks).

Undoubtedly, many of these people will be in attendance when Modi gives a much-anticipated speech at Wembley Stadium later today.