London: Describing India as one of the UK's "most important and closest" friends and a leading power in the world, Prime Minister Theresa May today said she will hold talks with counterpart Narendra Modi to bolster bilateral strategic ties in areas like defence, security and trade.
Ahead of her visit to India - which is May's first bilateral visit outside the UK, an article published in the 'Sunday Telegraph' quoted her as saying that she plans to "promote the best of Britain" during her three-day trade mission to New Delhi and Bengaluru.
She writes: "One of our most important and closest friends has to be India, a leading power in the world, with whom we share so much history, culture and so many values, and which is led by a Prime Minister who is undertaking a far-reaching programme of reform.
"In other words, we are two countries with strong ties, a mature relationship and an opportunity to make that even deeper.
"That is why, today I will be travelling to India for my first bilateral visit outside Europe and first trade mission as Prime Minister, accompanied by a range of top British businesses, including some of our brightest small and medium enterprises.
"We will be promoting the best of Britain, sending out the message that we are open for business, and making the most of the opportunities offered by Brexit as the world's foremost champion of free trade."
May, who will hold bilateral talks with Prime Minister Modi tomorrow, said she will seek concrete steps to move the partnership forward during the meeting.
"I will be using this visit to reaffirm the importance of the strategic partnership we already have, which delivers huge benefits for both our countries, and to work with Prime Minister Modi to agree to concrete steps to realise our shared vision of going even further in our cooperation across trade, investment, defence and security.
"Building 100 new 'Smart Cities', encouraging firms to 'Make in India', getting the country online with 'Digital India', delivering better healthcare, infrastructure, skills and finance ? these form Prime Minister Modi's vision, and with our world-class architects, lawyers, financiers, engineers, medics, academics and tech experts, Britain is the ideal partner to help achieve that, creating jobs and growth in both our countries."
Dismissing any talk of a free trade agreement (FTA), she said while an FTA cannot be signed until the official Brexit process, engagement with countries outside the EU can be stepped up.
"There is a great deal we can do right now to break down
barriers to trade, open up new markets for British businesses and prepare the ground for ambitious free trade agreements once we have left the EU," she said.
"That's why we are working with the Indians to strengthen intellectual property rights, enable the UK's world-leading services sector to work in the India market, and offer support to Prime Minister Modi's aim to make India an easier place to do business," she said.
"It is why we are introducing new British businesses to the opportunities on offer. And alongside this, while we will maintain our support for an EU-India free trade agreement, we will continue our dialogue with India about a future bilateral trade arrangement between our two countries," she noted.
She said her visit to India is about "collaboration" and highlighting the opportunities for new ways in which we can collaborate in future.
"I want to encourage more Indian businesses to invest in Britain, I want to see more British firms doing business in India, and I want to work with Prime Minister Modi to deliver the ambitious visions we share for our countries.
"Free trade and increased cooperation will make us all more secure and more prosperous. Take advantage of the opportunities before us, and I truly believe that this can be the partnership of the century," she concluded.