Syma Cullasy-Aldridge is the Chief Campaigns Director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which speaks on behalf of 190,000 UK businesses of all sizes and sectors. She has just returned from leading the organisation’s first-ever trade delegation to India with a central message of ensuring that businesses are geared up to fully utilise any future UK-India trade agreement.
As officials on both sides wrapped up the seventh round of free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations in London while the CBI team was in India, the industry expert feels enthused by the appetite in both countries for closer collaboration.
On her return, she tells iGlobal about reconnecting with her Indian heritage, looking ahead to closer bilateral cooperation in sustainable finance and getting the ground ready for making the most of a projected boost in UK-India trade of £28 billion a year by 2035 with an FTA.
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What was it like leading CBI’s first trade delegation to India?
We fit a lot into three days! It was very special to me actually. My family are from the Punjab, but they haven't lived in the Punjab for decades and decades. So, this was the first time for me to properly go back and it felt really very special personally and, of course, speaking of the huge opportunities for partnership as well.
How do you see the UK-India FTA progressing?
Kemi Badenoch, the [UK] Secretary of State for Business and Trade, has been very clear that this is a priority for her. I really welcome that. We've had a shift around in government recently, so she's taken on the business and trade brief instead of just the trade brief. And that's a really good thing because it means that you're looking at trade from a business perspective.
Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal has said it's [FTA] a win-win for both countries, which I certainly agree with.
The most important part of it is looking at the utilisation. Once a trade pact is agreed properly, then it's for business to make sure that they are using those opportunities.
What, in your view, are the highlight sectors within this partnership?
One of the big opportunities is on green. The UK has been leading the way in terms of its ambition on net zero. One of the really interesting conversations we were having is with ICIC Bank, for example, on the work that they're doing on green finance. And, we have got a lot of experience on green finance in the UK. So, there are definitely learnings across green finance, innovation and start-ups.
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Do you feel that business has sufficient input into the ongoing FTA talks?
I think one of the things that the [UK] trade department has been doing is looking at how to engage business between [FTA] negotiating rounds, which is really important. I know from experience that trade negotiations are improved by engagement with the companies who are going to be utilising it. So, if you engage with business, you will have better outcomes on your trade policy.
Also, while India has the G20 presidency this year, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) is doing the B20 Secretariat and we're working with them on it. That would be a really important moment in terms of global collaboration.
How do you see the post-Brexit UK-India trade partnership shaping up?
We have an opportunity to forge our own trading relationships. There's a big global Britain ambition with India – the fastest growing economy in the world. There's opportunity for the UK to partner with India on that growth story.
And, things like trade delegations are very important because it's about businesses on both sides understanding the opportunities so they know how they can make the most of trade pacts.