IndianCabThe last export? Classic ambassador taxis imported from Post-War Britain - London black cabs are now owned by Chinese company, Geely
Am I alone in feeling slightly queasy over Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, heading up a 100-strong business delegation to India?
A posse that large has a disturbing whiff of an Imperialist invasion force not unlike the birth of the East India Company in the late 18th century – the trading catalyst for the British Empire!
Musing apart, there are some serious issues for the UK sales industry as Cameron & Co make the hard-sell for home industries in a bid to establish “one of the defining relationships of this century”. While we still have very close cultural ties with India, the hurdles facing a full-and-free trade partnership remain huge.
India is a protectionist market with foreigners banned from owning property. The huge and creaking bureaucracy is renowned both for its cloying, suffocating red-tape and widespread endemic corruption at just about every level of commercial and government activity.
Now, take at look at what the two countries can offer each other. Post-Thatcher Britain is no longer the heavyweight industrial country it once was and the bulk of our manufacturing is small in scale compared to the heavy industries of India. That country's shipbuilding, mining and steel production is likely to continue accelerating despite the recent slowdown since the economic crisis.
So it looks, on the surface, far more likely that the UK will be 'buying' from India much more than it will be able to 'sell'.
Indeed, manufacturing today accounts for just 12% of the UK’s output and even much of that money goes abroad – the bulk of our car industry is owned by foreign companies and, let’s face it, the Indian Tata steel company already owns one of the UK’s current success stories, Jaguar-Land Rover.
Also, the bulk of India’s imports are in crude oil, raw precious stones, machinery, fertiliser, iron, steel and bulk chemicals – not much scope then for a country like the UK majoring on ‘lightweight’ industries.
Of course, India is the world’s tenth largest importer so there may have been scope for some sales opportunities were it not for the disparity between the UK’s commercial regulations and the interventionist and corrupt trading culture of India.
The Bribery Act passed by the British parliament in 2010 poses huge problems for sales professionals seeking to thread a way through its restrictions and the pressures applied by Indian prospects used to working with 'corrupt' business practices. Yet all we see is Cameron dodging the use of the ‘C’ word on news interviews and offering no concrete proposals to solve trading issues.
These issues have to be addressed before we can seriously expect our sales professionals to embark on the trading ship to the land once dubbed ‘the jewel in the crown’.
While any effort to sell the UK and explore new potentials for growth must be applauded, this particularly commercial expedition appears more driven by a politician's hunger for votes than any genuine desire to pave a way to a trading partnership.