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India makes final push for UK FTA before general election

New Delhi is reportedly looking to announce a deal before the model code of conduct comes into effect

India makes final push for UK FTA before general election
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

A high-level Indian official delegation headed by commerce secretary Sunil Barthwal is in London this week to negotiate on the key remaining issues in the proposed India-UK free trade agreement (FTA).

The chief negotiators of both countries would hold negotiations on issues including goods, services, and rules of origin, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported. 

Earlier this month, a UK delegation led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s chief economic advisor, Douglas McNeill, was in New Delhi. The delegation met finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal, and senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office. 

Ahead of the Indian delegation’s UK visit, the Prime Minister’s Office in New Delhi reviewed the progress of the talks last week. Barthwal and Goyal were present at the meeting.

India wants to conclude the negotiations and announce the deal before the model code of conduct  comes into effect. Later in the year, elections are also scheduled to be held in the United Kingdom, which may further delay the signing of the deal. 

“The deal can be signed in the next three weeks. There are economic and political ambitions on both sides. India needs to open up more as it is a high tariff country and the UK already is very open. We are not in a hurry because ultimately the deal has to accrue benefits for both the economies,” The Indian Express reported, citing a UK government official. 

India and the UK launched the talks for an FTA in January 2022. Both countries aimed to conclude talks by October 2022, but the deadline was missed due to political developments in the UK.

So far 13 rounds of talks have been completed and the 14th round started in January.

“The UK and India will continue to negotiate towards a comprehensive and ambitious Free Trade Agreement. The fourteenth round of negotiations will take place in January 2024,” the ministry said in a statement in December last year.

There are 26 chapters in the proposed agreement, which include goods, services, investments, and intellectual property rights.

India is demanding greater access for its skilled professionals from sectors like IT and healthcare in the UK market, besides market access for several goods at nil customs duty, a PTI report said. 

On the other hand, the UK is seeking a significant cut in import duties on goods such as scotch whiskey, electric vehicles, lamb meat, chocolates, and certain confectionary items. It is also looking for more access to Indian markets in segments like telecommunications, legal, and financial services.

The bilateral trade between India and the UK increased to $20.36 billion in 2022-23 from $17.5 billion in 2021-22. The two countries hope to double bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2030 if the FTA is implemented soon.

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