NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain would become the ultimate free trade champion as she laid the groundwork on Monday for a potential post-Brexit deal with India, the world’s fastest growing major economy.
In her first bilateral trip outside Europe since taking office in July, May said Britain would not “turn its back on the world” once it has left the EU but wanted new economic relationships that would benefit all sides.
“We want Britain to become the most committed and most passionate advocate of free trade in the world,” May said in a speech to industrialists in the Indian capital.
“That is because free trade creates a rising tide that lifts all boats, it makes all richer, it creates jobs, it increases investment, it improves productivity, it transforms living standards and creates opportunities for all our citizens.”
Accompanied by around three dozen business leaders, May arrived in New Delhi late Sunday and will travel to the southern tech hub of Bangalore on Tuesday.
Although Britain cannot sign any bilateral trade deals until it has left the European Union — most likely in 2019 — May’s visit is seen as signaling a desire to get the ball rolling as early as possible.
Liam Fox, in charge of a new department for international trade, is traveling with her and due to hold detailed talks with his Indian opposite number Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday.
May said that “no country owes another country a living” but there were plenty of areas where Britain and India could work more closely together. “Identifying … (areas of common interest) does not need to wait for us to leave the European Union.”
Despite their historical ties from the colonial era, bilateral trade is relatively low at $14 billion last year — smaller than the volume of trade between India and Germany.
The Hindustan Times wrote on Monday with Britain’s looming departure from the EU, “the UK needs trade with India more than ever”.
“It is vital that India and the United Kingdom, two countries linked by history, work together to define the knowledge economy of the 21st century,” said the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi.