UK, India officials conclude first round of free trade pact talks

UK, India officials conclude first round of free trade pact talks
Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal with UK counterpart Anne-Marie Trevelyan in New Delhi Courtesy: Anadolu Agency / Contributor | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The governments of India and the UK have announced the conclusion of a "productive" first round of free trade agreement (FTA) talks, held virtually between officials of both governments.

The Department for International Trade (DIT) said during the course of the two-week round, which began earlier this month following the visit of UK Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan to New Delhi and concluded on January 28, technical experts from both sides came together for discussions in 32 separate sessions covering 26 policy areas. The DIT reiterated an end of the year timeline for the negotiations, saying that both teams maintain a "shared ambition" to conclude negotiations by the end of 2022.

“The negotiations were productive and reflected our shared ambition to secure a comprehensive deal to boost trade between the 5th and 6th largest economies in the world. The positive discussions in round one have laid the groundwork for the UK and India to make positive and efficient progress,” the DIT said.

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The policy areas covered in this round included trade in goods, trade in services including financial services & telecommunications, investment, intellectual property, customs and trade facilitation, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, competition, gender, government procurement, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), sustainability, transparency, trade and development, geographical indicators and digital.

The officials highlighted the importance of ensuring that the first round could proceed virtually, despite the challenges presented by the Covid pandemic. The second round of negotiations is due to take place on 7-18 March.

As part of efforts on both sides to secure a comprehensive agreement, the Chief Negotiators will continue to consider the benefits of an Interim Agreement, the UK government said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously said an FTA would take the country’s historic partnership with India to the next level and highlighted Scotch whisky, financial services and cutting-edge renewable technology among some of the key sectors set to benefit. The first round of negotiations is expected to start next week, which the British government said would make this the UK’s quickest start of formal talks between negotiating teams following a launch.

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“A trade deal with India’s booming economy offers huge benefits for British businesses, workers and consumers. As we take our historic partnership with India to the next level, the UK’s independent trade policy is creating jobs, increasing wages and driving innovation across the country,” said Johnson.

“The UK has world-class businesses and expertise we can rightly be proud of, from Scotch whisky distillers to financial services and cutting-edge renewable technology. We are seizing the opportunities offered in growing economies of the Indo-Pacific to cement our place on the global stage and deliver jobs and growth at home,” he said.

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