Top British ministers to court new Indian PM Modi

Top British ministers to court new Indian PM Modi

NEW DELHI - Top British ministers were due this week to meet India's Narendra Modi to pursue deeper trade ties, the latest Western government to court the prime minister since his election in May.

Foreign Secretary William Hague and Finance Minister George Osborne were set to arrive in Mumbai on Monday on a two-day visit for talks with their counterparts, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Sunday.

The pair will also meet with reform-minded Modi, who has raised hopes for foreign investors with his pledges to open up the stumbling economy and spur investment.

"The focus is on bilateral trade and economic ties," spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters.

"India and the UK have a trade relationship which is approximately S$15.8 billion (S$19.69 billion). The trade is in favour of India," Akbaruddin said.

European governments and the United States boycotted Modi for a decade over deadly religious riots which occurred in 2002 while he was running his home state of Gujarat.

But they are now redoubling their efforts to make up for lost time, with France's foreign minister and Russia's deputy prime minister visiting in recent weeks.

Modi also met US Senator John McCain last week and expressed desire to increase trade between the two countries.

Modi will this month make his first trip outside the region since his landslide election win - to attend a summit of the BRICS developing giants in Brazil on July 15.

The BRICS meeting of leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa is being held two days after the World Cup final.

During their visit, Hague and Osborne will hold talks with business leaders in Mumbai on Monday before heading to New Delhi.

The pair will meet Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Osborne will hold talks with Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley in the capital on Tuesday.

They will be accompanied by a delegation that includes ministerial colleagues Gregory Barker, Oliver Letwin and Jo Johnson, the Indian foreign minister said in a statement.

The talks are expected to include bolstering defence sales to India, a major importer of military weapons and other hardware.

Britain, the former colonial power in India, was still holding out hope that a deal with France worth at least S$12 billion to supply 126 fighter jets to India could fall through.

India chose French company Dassault Aviation over other international rivals including the part-British Eurofighter jet, but the deal has been under final negotiation since January 2012 and has made slow progress.

Modi accepted an invitation from Prime Minister David Cameron to visit the UK following his landslide election victory in May.

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