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Written Statement - Visit to India: 10-14 April 2012
During Easter Week (10 – 14 April) I travelled to India to lead a mission to promote trade and investment between our two countries. I visited Delhi and Mumbai and, concurrently with my visit, a delegation of Welsh companies followed a programme exploring business opportunities. Throughout the visit we were superbly supported by the UK High Commission, UKTI and the Welsh Government’s own representatives on the ground.
I met the Minister of State at the Ministry of External Affairs, Ms Preneet Kaur. I was glad to highlight the contribution – economically, socially, culturally - of the Indian community to life in Wales. As well as the permanent community of Welsh people of Indian origin, we also benefit from the 3,000 Indian students who have chosen Welsh institutions. I noted that the Welsh Government has excellent relations with the Indian High Commission to the UK and that we would very much welcome the opening of an Indian Consulate in Wales, an issue on which the community here has made representations to us. The Minister reported that a consulate in Wales remains under consideration.
Through Visit Britain I met representatives from the tourism industry to discuss what Wales has to offer. The Indian community in Wales provides a solid foundation for tourism from India since a multiplier effect attracting family and friends is at work. India has a strong long-term growth rate and, as wealth expands, the market for international tourism grows and becomes more sophisticated. We must now develop a strategy to capitalise on this growth so we can expand on the Welsh share of the Indian market.
Commercial activity between Wales and India has grown steadily and I was delighted to assist at the launch, in Delhi, of the very latest Welsh export product. Montagne Jeunesse is based at Baglan Moors Energy Park and produces a range of cosmetic products from natural ingredients. The company is now working with an Indian partner to bring their range into the Indian market, and I wish them every success.
I was pleased, too, to be present at the signing of an MoU between Cardiff Metropolitan University and Planet Edu, an Indian educational provider. The partners have agreed to develop flexible learning modules for the Indian market. The Indian education minister Mr Kapil Sibal (formally styled Human Resources Minister) explained to me that the Government is planning to liberalise some aspects of education provision and this represents a major potential market. The market for skills training in India is also substantial and I aim to stimulate action in this area from Welsh providers.
Culture, in its many forms, is an essential part of the Indian identity, as it is for us in Wales. I hosted an event at the British Council in Delhi to promote the WOMEX Festival 2013, hosted in Wales, and to generate links between creative industries in both directions. A number of Bollywood feature films have already been made in Wales and I would like to see more in future. As well as the direct immediate economic impact in Wales, Bollywood productions can also serve to promote awareness of Wales in India.
In Mumbai I met Mr B. Muthuraman the Vice-Chairman of Tata Steel. He emphasised Tata’s commitment to Wales and recognised the value to the company of an excellent workforce combined with a supportive relationship with the Welsh Government. Mr Muthuraman outlined Tata’s plans to invest £800 million at their Welsh facilities over the next five years. I assured him of the Welsh Government’s continuing long-term support for Tata Steel and its workforce.
I also met Dr Habil Khorakiwala, the Chairman of the Wockhardt Group, one of the largest Indian investors in Wales, which employs some 350 people at its pharmaceutical site in Wrexham. Dr Khorakiwala again emphasised the benefits to the company of its close partnership with the Welsh Government, a relationship I was very glad to endorse.
I met a large range of actual and possible investors into Wales as well as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). I used my opportunity with the CII to promote Wales and they are working on an event to introduce SMEs into Wales in October 2012.
Maharashtra is the Indian State covering Mumbai and the surrounding district and is an area of extraordinary dynamism and economic potential. I met its Chief Minister Mr Prithiraj Chavan (whose head of office, I was pleased to learn, was educated at Swansea University). I was able to tell the Chief Minister that, just the week before, I had attended the European Marathi Sammelan, an annual gathering of the Marathi community, held in Swansea. The Chief Minister noted that education is a major area for potential development, substantiating views gathered elsewhere.
India is a country of extraordinary variety and energy and its economy is developing rapidly. The disparity in size between Wales and India is, of course, marked but we have natural advantages in developing mutually beneficial relations. Indian investment already accounts for thousands of jobs in Wales and the Indian community creates firm foundations on which we can build. Current commercial activity ranges across fields as diverse as steel, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics and the English language gives us a valuable trading advantage. In the years ahead, the Welsh Government will continue to prioritise our relationship with India and to build on the strong links already in place.