One of the biggest Anglo-Indian trade deals was signed yesterday in Gujarat to coincide with the first visit by a UK minister to the state since religious riots killed hundreds in 2002.
Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire led a British Gas (BG) Group trade delegation to the state capital Gandhinagar where also met Chief Minister Narendra Modi, widely tipped to be the BJP’s candidate in next year’s General Election.
BG Group inked a 20-year deal to supply Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) to Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation (GSPC), worth an estimated $20 billion.
Mr Swire said he raised the issue of of the deaths of two UK nationals directly in his meeting with Mr Modi, which came after a 10-year ban on British officials meeting him was withdrawn in October last year."
He added: “I am confident that active engagement is the best way to pursue British interests in Gujarat. This includes support for the British nationals in Gujarat, for the large Gujarati community in the UK, for human rights and good governance.
“This deal is great news for the companies, for Gujarat, for the UK, and for India. Following the Prime Minister’s highly successful visit last month this is further evidence that the UK and India are making real progress in building a stronger, wider and deeper partnership.
“It is significant that a British company is helping to increase energy security in one of the world’s fastest growing economies. India is already one the world’s largest markets for liquefied natural gas and demand is certain to grow.
“We are well on course to double trade with India by 2015 and I hope this is further encouragement to UK companies to trade, invest and build their presence in India.”
Under the agreement, BG Group will supply state-owned Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation Limited (GSPC) with up to 2.5 million tonnes per annum of LNG, concluding negotiations announced in September 2011.
BG Group Chief Executive Chris Finlayson said: “We have been active in India for more than 15 years and it is a large and important market that we understand well. We expect the country to lie third among LNG importing countries by 2025, behind Japan and China.
"Our long-term agreement with GSPC adds another dimension to our global LNG portfolio with the addition of material new supplies to a fast growing market. We look forward to building our presence in the country," Mr Finlayson said.
Foreign media were not invited to the event but Mr Swire, a Conservative MP, spoke to Indian press this afternoon. He was quizzed about changes to UK travel advice for those visiting India following events earlier this week.
Last Friday a Swiss woman was reportedly raped in Madhya Pradesh while her partner was prevented from coming to her aid by attackers. On Tuesday news emerged of an alleged attempted sexual assault on a British female who sustained injuries after leaping from her hotel balcony in Agra to escape her assailant.
UK travel advice previously warned single women travelling the country to be vigilant – this advice now also extends to those in groups.
The minister was also asked about whether he had extended an invitation to the high profile Chief Minister to visit Britain. A British High Commission spokesman said the minister’s meeting did ‘not amount to an endorsement’ and that Britain had agreed last October to greater engagement with Gujarat as a state, not any individual’. He added: "This is a relationship that we are still building and we will take that decision as it comes.”
Mr Swire is due to meet senior Indian government ministers today to discuss trade opportunities and other areas of potential co-operation.