India, England to ink more agreements

London, October 9:

Several multi-million pound contracts between British and Indian companies are expected to be signed when Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh attends the first UK-India investment conference here tomorrow.

The meet, organised by the Department of Trade and Industry, is expected to be attended briefly by the Brit-ish premier Tony Blair. The Indian delegation will include commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath, who will hold meetings with trade secretary Alistair Darling. Tomorrow, retail giant Tesco is expected to announce plans to enter the Indian retail market in partnership with Bharti Enterprises. Other companies attending the event are Standard Chartered, and Cairn Energy, which will this week release details of its Indian subsidiary’s imminent IPO on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

According to media reports, Blair is expected to urge Singh to relax laws that prevent British companies doing business in India. Blair is expected to lobby particularly hard on behalf of supermarkets such as Tesco. Foreign groups that sell multiple brands, such as supermarkets, are not allowed to operate in India. A Tesco spoke-sperson said, “We have a research project under way and will be coming to a conclusion as to what we do or don’t do in India at the end of the year. So far so good, but it’s early days. It’s also not possible for foreign companies to own retail assets at the moment.”

The Independent reported that Blair and the other UK business leaders present at the talks will urge to go further in relaxing restrictions on foreign investment. Retail banks face difficulties opening branches, and there are limits on the level of foreign ownership of local banks.