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London Mayor Johnson blasts French government, invites investors to Britain

posted 27 Nov 2012, 04:26 by Mpelembe   [ updated 27 Nov 2012, 04:26 ]

London Mayor Boris Johnson blasts French government over its handling of steel magnate Lakshmi Narayan Mittal's case while inviting Indian investors to set shop in Britain.

NEW DELHIINDIA (NOVEMBER 27, 2012) (ORIGINALLY 4:3) (ANI) -  London Mayor Boris Johnson mocked French government on Tuesday (November 27) over its handling of steel magnate Lakshmi Narayan Mittal's case while inviting Indian investors to set shop in Britain

On Monday (November 26) French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg said that steelmaker Mittal, which acquired France's Arcelor in 2006, was no longer wanted in France due to years of broken promises, intensifying a row over plans to close two furnaces in northeastern France.

Montebourg's attack on ArcelorMittal, which he later qualified, risks exacerbating tensions in a dispute that is central to Socialist President Francois Hollande's efforts to save jobs and reverse years of industrial decline.

It came after Montebourg, one of the most left-wing ministers in the government, said last week that France could nationalise the company's Florange site on a temporary basis while the government tries to find a buyer.

ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, has said it will shut down two blast furnaces at Florange from December 01 unless the government can find a buyer to operate them.

Diving into the controversy, Johnson told a meeting of Indian business and Industry leaders in New Delhi that the French Minister was eccentric enough to drive such a big investor out.

"I see the sans-culottes appear to have captured the government of Paris and a French minister has been so eccentric as to call for a massive investor to depart from France, I have no hesitation or embarrassment in saying to everyone here 'venez a Londres, mes amis', come to London, come to the business capital of the world, a place where 73 Indian firms are listed on the London Stock Exchange, where Indian companies already raise 53 percent of their international equity, a city that still has the largest banking and financial sector anywhere in the world, but which is at the cutting edge of the growth businesses of the future," said Johnson.

ArcelorMittal employs some 20,000 people across France. Last week, Montebourg said the government had received two offers from buyers interested in acquiring more than just the two blast furnaces, but gave no further details.ArcelorMittal has denied having received any such offers.

Johnson said London was the perfect investment destination for Indian businessmen looking to go abroad as he recounted the merits of the world's biggest financial centre.

He welcomed the proposal of the Indian government for opening multi-retail sector for Foreign Direct Investment and asked New Delhi to open more areas like insurance for foreign investors.

"I believe the scope for partnership is limitless and it is very exciting that India is now opening up for multiple brand retail and we have had some fascinating discussions already on this trip about the possibility of collaboration on the infrastructure and urbanisation projects, where both London and Delhi are engaged," said Johnson.

The government initiated the proposal to allow foreign supermarket chains such as Wal-Mart in September, which had triggered protest not only from opposition parties but also from some of its allies.

The move would allow global firms such as Wal-Mart Stores to set up shop with a local partner and sell directly to consumers for the first time, a move which supporters say could transform India's $450 billion retail market and tame inflation.

The policy comes with provisos, which, some analysts said, could hamper firms hoping to set up shop in the world's second-most populous country.

Johnson also pushed for speedy negotiations between India and the EU over a comprehensive free trade agreement, saying the pact would be mutually beneficial for both sides.

"There is so much more that we can do and I think we should cut the cackle and have a full-fledged free trade agreement between the EU (European Union) andIndia and I think that would be a great mutual benefit, getting rid of the tariffs, on either sides. I personally believe there could be huge advantages to India, in opening up a little bit more in sectors such as insurances," said Johnson.

India is optimistic it can seal a free trade deal with the European Union and is urging its negotiating partner to settle the details of an agreement it says would benefit both their stumbling economies.

IndiaAsia's third largest economy after China and Japan, has enjoyed two decades of rapid growth power by IT and outsourcing, even if manufacturing has lagged, weighed down by red tape and creaky infrastructure.

A Free Trade Agreement would help India's growing companies expand into the EU, the country's biggest trading partner and the buyer of more than 40 billion euros of Indian goods and services in 2010. Europe wants access to a vast, young market of 1.3 billion potential customers.

Negotiations started in 2007 and are expected to conclude this year.

On the thorny issue of visa restrictions for Indian students, Johnson said Londonwelcomed Indian students with open arms.

"The most important message I want to get over to our friends in India, is thatLondon is open, the overwhelming majority of students will get a visa, you are welcome in our city and I am going to do my utmost to make sure that, not only remains the case, but increases that we make London increasingly open," said Johnson.

England is home to top-ranked universities with a large foreign student population.

The mayor is a strong advocate of foreign students to the capital, seeing them and a valuable economic commodity that can be use to develop a stronger higher education system in the UK.

This is Boris Johnson's first official foreign investment seeking trip since Londonhosted the Olympic Games. He is planning to make several more trips to key overseas markets including ChinaBrazil and the Middle East.