Indians have played a key role in city's development since the British arrived INDIANS HAVE BEEN a part of the Hong Kong scene since the British arrived in the early 1840s. 'Some of them were in the British Army and some of them were traders,' said Basant Gupta, consul-general of India. 'Before the handover, they accounted for about 10 per cent of Hong Kong's foreign trade.' From the very beginning, Indians have played an important role in the city's life. The Star Ferry was set up by an Indian. Ruttonjee Hospital was established by an Indian. Indians were also among the founders of the University of Hong Kong and the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. An estimated 36,000 ethnic Indians, including 23,000 Indian passport holders, call Hong Kong home. They are involved in a variety of sectors, including academia, banking, commerce, foreign trade, hotels and information technology. Bilateral trade has been growing at a steady clip in recent years, up 12.7 per cent in 2002, 28.9 per cent in 2003 and 15.5 per cent last year, according to the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department. Trade for the first six months of this year reached $3.6 billion, representing an increase of 17 per cent over the same period last year. India was Hong Kong's 11th largest trading partner, up from 13th in 2003. India's main exports to Hong Kong include pearls, precious and semi-precious stones, raw hides and skins, cotton, iron and steel, plastics, and electrical machinery. Hong Kong's key exports to India include pearls, precious and semi-precious stones, electrical machinery, machinery, cotton, organic chemicals, optical and medical instruments and watches and clocks. Re-exports, mostly from the mainland, were up 7.5 per cent last year, accounting for US$42.03 billion. Domestic exports were up by nearly twice that ratio, or 14 per cent, reaching US$58 million. 'Fifty-five per cent of India's exports to Hong Kong are re-exported to China and other countries,' said Mr Gupta. 'As the economy of the region develops, the country's trade with Hong Kong develops.' Hong Kong's importance to India is even greater, being its fifth largest trading partner. Ten per cent of Chinese-Indian trade is funnelled through the city. 'Hong Kong is seen as a gateway to China and East Asia,' said Mr Gupta. 'Because Hong Kong was a member of the Commonwealth, there is a linguistic affinity, a mutual adherence to the common law and similarities in administration. Hong Kong's currency is fully convertible and banking here is easy. For these reasons, Indians feel more comfortable being based here.' Tourism between the two sides has also been on the increase. More than 240,000 Indians visited Hong Kong last year, against 24,000 people from Hong Kong visiting India, for a combined increase of 48 per cent over the previous year. 'There is strong potential, and this is one of the areas we want to develop,' said Mr Gupta. Thanks to the country's high quality and inexpensive health care, medical tourism has developed into a growing segment, attracting 1.5 million tourists last year. In the 58 years since independence was declared, India has made strides in several areas. A famine-prone country - 2 million starved to death in Bengal in 1942 - it has enjoyed a surplus of food since the late 1960s. By the following decade, India had become the world's largest producer of milk and other dairy products. As the world's largest democracy, it also has the largest number of doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants and other professionals. 'Our aim is make India a developed country by 2020,' said Mr Gupta. 'We will have to cope with a number of challenges - serious challenges. But we feel that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. We should be able to meet our target.' As a British colony, India missed out on the Industrial Revolution. A commitment to science and technology since independence in 1947 is helping an essentially agrarian society leap directly into the technological era. India is set to become the world's most populous country by 2035. Thanks to democratic institutions, a free press and an independent judiciary - as well as its linguistic skills and its commitment to education and health care - it could also become one of the most dynamic.