UK minister welcomes Diwali landing point for UK-India free trade deal

UK minister welcomes Diwali landing point for UK-India free trade deal

The UK’s minister driving the free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with India has said the Diwali deadline set for a deal during talks between Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi is a good “landing point” as there is "real optimism" on both sides.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, UK Secretary of State for International Trade, was giving evidence to the House of Commons International Trade Committee when she was asked about the timeline announced last week. The minister said the negotiating teams, currently in India for the third round of FTA talks, have been “going at pace” and if they come across “bumps in the road”, those will be dealt with accordingly.

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Trevelyan told MPs: “Diwali seems like a good landing point. Like all of these things, if you provide a political anchor it helps drive the energy.

“But we may yet come across areas of disagreement and need more time on [them]. But our respective Prime Ministers have given us that landing zone and there is real optimism and real effort on both sides… the team are out there this week moving into the next stage, looking at the various chapters where those areas of agreement are and indeed looking at the text already, which is really exciting.

“The Prime Minister was out last weekend, helping champion all the work that my team are doing to move forwards on an India FTA.”

The senior Cabinet minister also indicated that while an interim agreement by mid-April ahead of a full-fledged FTA by year-end had been on the agenda, there has been a mindset shift on the Indian side to go ahead for a completed agreement by October.

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“Actually, now having had two rounds of talks with their fantastic team, there is a sense that we probably can do more than perhaps those early conversations; which is why we have all set ourselves the challenge to see if we can draw what will be the broad FTA that both parties want to see through the course of this year,” she said.

The minister highlighted that while historically, FTAs have been very much about "straight forward movement of goods", they are now about looking beyond to areas such as innovation.

She reiterated that the UK wants to see a “broad partnership” covering defence and strategic ties and as part of those discussions UK minister of state for defence procurement Jeremy Quin has been out in India for the last few days talking to his counterparts in India.

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“So, lots of different tracks going on but for the FTA, we have a mandate from across Whitehall and the team are cracking on with making progress and we’ll see how we go. We hope we can make good progress, but we may yet encounter challenges,” she said.

During his two-day visit to India on April 21-22, Boris Johnson had announced that he and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have told the negotiators to get the FTA done by Diwali, which falls on October 24 this year.

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