India downplays UK aid issue

The United Kingdom is yet to take a decision on the proposal to cut the 280 million pound a year development aid to India even as New Delhi sought to downplay the issue on Thursday.

British foreign secretary William Hague, addressing a joint press meet along with Indian foreign minister Salman Khurshid said his colleague minister heading the department for international development (DfID), Justine Greening, would be examining the areas where Britain is providing funding to India and take a decision.

The issue was said to have figured in Hague’s talks with finance minister P Chidambaram. 

Khurshid dismissed the issue saying "Aid is past, trade is future.” He added:” If we did not discuss it (aid issue), it did not merit a discussion."

However, Hague remarked:  "We have been discussing the issue... The governments of UK and India have agreed on the way forward on this issue."  He, however, did not elaborate.

 The issue was a topic of discussion in diplomatic circles here after The Sunday Times reported the David Cameron government has planned to cut the aid as a result of the growing domestic pressure to stop funding to emerging economies like India, at a time when Britain was facing an economic downturn.

 The issue may figure during the forthcoming visit of Greening to India when the two countries may discuss a time-table for "winding down" British aid commitment to India, the report said.

 The two countries Thursday held the India-UK Strategic Dialogue which covered a gamut of issues such as security situation in the region, civil nuclear energy, defence, counter-terrorism and cyber security.

They also decided to conduct their Cyber Dialogue on a bi-annual basis to “achieve objectives such as reducing the risk of threats from cyberspace to international security and tackle cyber crime.”

Bilateral trade was a major topic of discussion and Hague expressed confidence trade between the two countries would double in the next three years on stronger economic and business ties.

"Since 2010, our partnership has truly become stronger, wider and deeper. We are on course to hit our target of doubling trade by 2015," he said.

The bilateral trade in 2010 was worth 10 billion pounds. The two countries had set a bilateral trade target 20 billion pounds by 2015.

Responding to a question on the situation in the region especially on Afghanistan and India’s neighbourhood, Hague said, "We greatly value India's counsel and cooperation.”

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