Britain's May unable to arrange meeting with turmoil-hit Tata executives

MUMBAI (BLOOMBERG) - Prime Minister Theresa May, on a visit to India to drum up trade after Britain voted to quit the European Union, said she's been unable to arrange a meeting with senior figures at Tata Sons Ltd amid uncertainty over the company's plans for its steel plants in the UK.

"I had hoped to meet the key people from Tata while I was in India," Mrs May told accompanying reporters on Sunday (Nov 6) at the start of a three-day trip to New Delhi. "Sadly, the schedules don't allow for me to do that on this particular visit, but there are regular contacts between the government and Tata Steel."

Mrs May is making her first trip as leader to India with the future of Tata Steel Ltd's UK assets still unresolved, seven months after India's biggest steel company put them on the block amid mounting losses and igniting a political firestorm due to the large number of jobs at risk.

The situation has been complicated by the surprise ouster of the parent group's chairman, Mr Cyrus Mistry, who was replaced by his predecessor Mr Ratan Tata at a board meeting on October 24.

Mr Kulvin Suri, a spokesman for Tata Steel, declined to comment on Mrs May's visit to India.

Tata Steel said at the end of March it would field bids for its UK business, while the company has since entered into talks with Germany's Thyssenkrupp AG on a possible joint venture in Europe.

Mr Mistry had named the company's European operations as among those debt-ridden units that he had inherited, and Tata Steel remains under pressure to find a solution for the assets.

The steel producer has absorbed only a portion of potential impairments that exceed US$10 billion (S$13.89 billion), according to an e-mail from Mr Mistry, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg.

Following Mr Mistry's exit, the Mumbai-based company reaffirmed it's looking to sell its South Yorkshire-based specialty steels business and its Hartlepool pipe mill, and is evaluating bids for its Port Talbot plant in South Wales. It also said talks are progressing with Thyssenkrupp.

In 2007, Tata Steel made the largest-ever overseas acquisition by an Indian company, paying US$12.9 billion for Corus Group Plc, which included the assets of the formerly state-owned British Steel Corp.

However, a demand slump in Europe after the 2008 economic crisis and a flood of cheaper Chinese imports have hurt operations.