“Just because we have a free trade agreement, doesn’t mean we can’t do even more later,” said Kemi Badenoch, the new International Trade Secretary who is driving forward the negotiations on the UK side to clinch a free trade agreement (FTA) with India by Diwali.
Addressing an event on the sidelines of the Conservative Party annual conference in Birmingham last week, the Cabinet minister indicated that the October-end timeline set by former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, was still the goal under Prime Minister Liz Truss. However, she did strike a note of caution to balance expectations that not all sectors would get everything on their wish list.
She said: “We want something comprehensive, but it has to be right for both countries.
“The Prime Minister has a deadline, which the previous Prime Minister had. That was quite a long deadline, so it’s not arbitrary, it wasn’t set last week. But doing a trade deal is not a simple and easy thing.
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“So, what we want to do is something that lifts both countries. It may not be everything the services sector wants, we may not get everything, we are not doing a unilateral, free-for-all deal.”
Badenoch, who was participating in a panel discussion organised by the Policy Exchange think tank entitled “Trade and the Indo-Pacific”, has been in charge at the UK's Department of International Trade (DIT) since early last month and says she is keen to shift the discussion beyond trade deals to wider cooperation.
“I am not in a rush to sign trade deals. I want good deals with these countries. We need to make sure that every deal is great for the UK,” she said.
As part of her India focus, the minister also attended the Conservative Friends of India (CFIN) reception co-hosted by the Tory diaspora organisation and the Indian High Commission in London.
Badenoch took over the DIT brief from Anne-Marie Trevelyan last month at a time when the UK-India FTA negotiations have entered the final round. All eyes are now on the October 24 Diwali deadline, with some speculation around a possible visit by the Indian Prime Minister to ink a draft FTA.
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The focus of the FTA negotiations is on reducing the barriers to trade, cutting tariffs, and supporting companies to export. According to DIT statistics, UK-India bilateral trade currently stands at around £24 billion a year and industry experts hope this figure could be boosted considerably by an FTA.