NEW DELHI (AFP) - Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain would become the ultimate free trade champion as she laid the groundwork Monday for a potential post-Brexit deal with India, the world's fastest growing major economy.
In her first bilateral trip outside Europe since taking office in July, May said Britain would not "turn its back on the world" once it has left the EU but emphasised that new economic relationships had to benefit all sides.
May's visit is an attempt to get the ball rolling for a future trade deal between the two countries, although nothing can be signed until Britain actually leaves the European Union -- most likely in 2019.
Accompanied by a delegation of around three dozen business leaders, May arrived in the smog-bound capital New Delhi late Sunday and will travel to the southern tech hub of Bangalore on Tuesday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with India's counterpart Narendra Modi as they attend The India-UK Tech Summit in New Delhi, on November 7, 2016 ©Prakash Singh (AFP)
"On this visit alone more than one billion pounds of business deals will be signed. And there's much more we can do," May told reporters after meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"We have also agreed to establish structural talks at officials level to identify what more we can do now before Britain leaves the EU to remove barriers to trade and investment."
While the benefits of a deal to Britain are evident, sealing one will be no easy task in a country which has been negotiating with the EU as a whole on a free trade agreement for the best part of a decade.
India still has a rigorous regime of tariffs and red tape which have traditionally made it one of the most complex places to do business, even if the potential market is huge.
Britain's need to cut deals quickly once it leaves the EU gives Modi's government added bargaining power.
The Hindustan Times wrote on Monday with Britain's looming departure from the EU, "the UK needs trade with India more than ever".