Last Updated: March 08, 2024, 21:43 IST

London, United Kingdom (UK)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chats with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak following his arrival at the venue for G20 Summit, Bharat Mandapam.

UK negotiators return from New Delhi without finalising a bilateral free trade agreement. Talks remain open as India seeks a balanced deal

A team of UK negotiators that was in New Delhi to try and iron out the remaining issues holding up a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) are on their way back to London on Friday with a deal yet to be finalised, according to officials familiar with the discussions.

The understanding is that the fourteenth round of negotiations remains “open and progress continues” but the team did not get what was needed to close all the outstanding issues. Sources here said the UK is “proud” of all that has been achieved so far and that the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak-led government remains committed to securing a “comprehensive and ambitious” FTA and bilateral investment treaty (BIT).

It comes as Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal told PTI in an interview in New Delhi that long-term benefits for the economy were key in such FTA negotiations and that India was seeking a “balanced, fair and equitable” deal. “I am very confident that we hear some good news in the days to come. Our officers are relentlessly pursuing several engagements. Let us see who pips the others,” Goyal said.

Earlier, UK Secretary of State for Business and Trade Kemi Badenoch said that while a trade deal with India is “possible” to be concluded before a general election in the country, Britain does not want to use that as a deadline. “We can actually sign an agreement before the Indian election. I suspect that that is not necessarily going to be the case because I don’t want to use any election as a deadline,” Badenoch said during a Global Trade conference at Chatham House in London on Thursday.

“It is possible that that will be done but I am very resistant to deadlines being set on trade negotiations because it runs down the clock. It is very possible that we can sign but I am not using it as a deadline for the work that I am carrying out basically,” she said. The minister in charge of signing off on the FTA pointed to India’s protectionist economy in comparison with the UK’s liberalised regime as one of the factors behind the long-drawn discussions.

“The bigger the country, the more complex the trade agreement. And also, the more different the economy is, the harder it is to negotiate…  India is still very protectionist, where we are very, very liberalised,” the minister elaborated. “I am not interested in just taking a picture and moving on. It has to be something that is commercially meaningful. People need to be able to say ‘ah now I can do this’, like we had with our Australia agreement or with Japan for example,” she said, referring to FTAs with the two major economies.

India and the UK have been negotiating an FTA since January 2022 to significantly enhance the GBP 36-billion bilateral trading partnership. The 13th round of talks concluded on December 15 last year, with both sides hopeful that the ongoing fourteenth round will end in an agreement.

The UK wants India to significantly reduce tariffs on UK exports such as food, cars and whisky which can currently be as high as 150 per cent. India in turn is concerned over the fairness of rules applied to Indian workers temporarily transferred to the UK on business visas who have to pay national insurance, despite not being eligible for UK pensions or social security benefits.

In her keynote address at the trade conference on Thursday, Badenoch noted: “I have to strike the right balance between embracing the import of goods from developing countries to help them grow with the need to maintain the high standards on quality and safety which the British people rightly expect. We make choices.

“Our free trade agreements are helping us make the right choices because they are all about diversification and resilience. That is what the Indo-Pacific tilt is about, but we need to make sure that the facts are out there,” she said. With both India and the UK set for a general election this year, signing off on a trade agreement has taken on particular urgency before leaders on both sides get into campaign mode.

(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – PTI)


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