UK-India FTA offers real opportunity for West Midlands

UK-India FTA offers real opportunity for West Midlands

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, the region that is home to many of the UK’s vibrant industries including the UK-India automotive connect with the Tata Group’s Jaguar Land Rover (JLR). As he prepares to host the Commonwealth Games 2022 later this year, the businessman-turned-politician reflects on his region’s strong bond with India, which he is confident is set to intensify with the free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations currently underway.

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Q

How do you see the UK-India FTA impacting the West Midlands?

A

The big picture is that within the overall UK-India relationship there's a real opportunity for the West Midlands to build a strong trading relationship. We've already got a very good relationship because our single biggest company, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), is owned by Tata. So, there's an incredible Indian investment here and what we believe is that there'll be many, many more opportunities particularly in sectors where we are very strong – automotive, net zero – overlap perfectly with the Indian economy.

If I think of some of the inward investment data, we see that the West Midlands is actually second after London and the South East. So, we've been very successful with the inward investment.

Some of the other Indian companies we have include Infosys and TVS Motors which has just bought Norton Motorcycles with a major facility in Solihull. We are very confident that we have got the strength that we can build on the back of that FTA.

Q

Are there sectors of particular focus?

A

If I were to pull out one sector that's particularly important would be automotive, because this is the automotive capital of the UK. We have the cluster here, so 50 per cent of the R&D in automotive is done within 20 miles of Birmingham city centre. This is the region that will gain most.

And, if we think of the electrification of automotive, we've seen JLR turning to electric and also electric taxis being built, there's electric motorcycles. The next thing we think we'll be doing is having giga factory on the south of Coventry.

So, this sector is becoming really, really strong here. Of course, the absence of tariffs with India will enable us to really work with the innovators.

I was in Pune, looking at the strength of the Indian automotive sector, and it is obvious the strengths of working with one another.

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Q

How will the Commonwealth Games impact bilateral ties?

A

We are hugely looking forward to and feel very honoured to host the Commonwealth Games. It is likely to be the first time a good part of the world comes together with full stadia, spectators after the pandemic. It's an incredible privilege that it will be in Birmingham and something of a responsibility.

We are looking forward to about a million visitors and about a billion people observing this on television, the biggest audience being in India. This is a perfect way to showcase to Indians, who understand the UK very well given the strength of the diaspora, how a region not always in the limelight had developed and what it offers. I hope it encourages more leisure visits and also business visits in the future.

That is the reason for the Business and Tourism Programme on the back of the baton travelling around the Commonwealth.

Q

How would you describe the Indian diaspora’s role in your region?

A

The West Midlands India Partnership (WMIP), formed last year, is there specifically because there is such a strong bond and also because there is such a huge opportunity for it to do more in a number of areas.

Obviously trade and investment and tourism as well, as India becomes a more wealthy country, where Indians are choosing to go on holiday we want to have our fair share of that market.

Educational exchange is also an important area. The UK is a country favoured by Indian students and also sharing academic research between the two countries. The University of Wolverhampton, for example, has a chair for Punjabi and Sikh Studies and its partnership with universities in Amritsar. So, there are some really good foundational institutions.

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Q

How do you plan to help businesses hit by the pandemic?

A

We were hit very hard. Before the pandemic, we were the fastest growing region in the UK between 2010-2020. We've had a big hit. In simple terms, we have got to resume the growth that we had before. But also, we have got to think about some of the new areas of growth.

The pandemic has got people to actually think about this whole net zero sector and growing back greener, more sustainably and our fastest growing area of the economy are now the businesses that are in the net zero sector. Whether they be about storing energy, distributing energy, recycling – that new thinking is really critical.

I hope this is an area where the UK may be a little ahead of India and are able to work together on. I am hoping there's a natural synergy there.

Other areas, the property sector has been very resilient. So, for institutional investment from India, that will prove attractive. The automotive sector has taken a terrible knock, but I am expecting that to grow back stronger because the level of innovation in that sector is obviously huge.

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