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By Peter Hoskin
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Cameron playing cricket

So
far, David Cameron’s trip to India has represented one quality above all others
– change. And that change has come in two forms, which are:

1) Trade. Of course,
it’s not a new Coalition policy to seek out trade with countries that are
several time zones away: David Cameron visited India with exactly that purpose
back in 2010. But that policy is still part of a grander shift. The Government
wants to move Britain away from its traditional reliance on European and North
American markets, and take advantage of fast-developing economies such as Brazil,
China and India, where a growing middle class is—in theory—creating demand for
British expertise and innovation in finance, luxury goods, engineering and so
on. The thinking is simple: why hitch up to, say, the Eurozone when there’s
gold to be struck elsewhere?

But,
as the BBC’s James Landale points out, there is
a difference between Mr Cameron’s previous visit to India and this one. This
time, the trade delegation accompanying him doesn’t just contain
representatives from British multinationals such as Barclays and BAE, but also
from some small- and medium-sized enterprises. This, no doubt, is an attempt to
extend the benefits of soft diplomacy to those who don’t normally receive them.


It’s
all a slow process, however: in the year
to last November
, for instance, UK exports to Germany were worth £31
billion, whereas those to India only totted up to £4 billion. But there has
been some progress. Last year, according to the Centre
for Economics and Business Research
, exports to non-EU countries surpassed
those to EU countries for the first properly sustained time since the 1970s.
The same organisation also predicts export growth, over five years, of 30 per
cent to Asia, over 40 per cent to Latin America and over 60 per cent to Africa,
albeit from a low base.

2) Immigration. The Prime Minister
today said that he’s planning
to make it easier
for Indian businesspeople to visit Britain – and he encouraged
Indian students
to apply for visas, too. This is as much a shift in
rhetoric as it is in policy, but either way—as I suggested
yesterday
—it’s entirely sensible. The question now is whether Mr Cameron
will loosen the red tape wrapped around those businesspeople and students
migrating from countries other than India. This would certainly help Britain’s
economy, even if it erodes the hard-edged purity of the Tories’ overall message
on immigration. And it would be another change, one really worth talking about.

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