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India, UK to soon launch talks for free-trade pact, ministers to meet virtually in July-end

This will be the first interaction on FTA between Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and International Trade Secretary of the UK, Liz Truss.

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New Delhi: India is soon going to launch free trade agreement (FTA) talks with the United Kingdom, which is now out of the European Union (EU), ThePrint has learnt.

According to sources, the potential India-UK FTA will be discussed during a trade ministerial dialogue between Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and International Trade Secretary of the UK, Liz Truss, towards the end of July. This will be the first such interaction between Goyal and Truss.

The decision to hold the ministerial dialogue virtually was finalised during a meeting Thursday between Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla and new British High Commissioner to India Philip Barton. Both discussed the acceleration of strategic and defence dialogue between the two countries.

On Friday, Truss attended the India Global Week virtually and said, “We look very much look forward working more closely with India in the coming months and years.”

She said the UK is looking forward to have an FTA based on “free and fair” trade with several like-minded countries such as India. She also acknowledged New Delhi’s cooperation during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic with supplies of paracetamol drugs.

Addressing the India Global Week, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, “Britain and India will be energetic champions of free trade, to boost small businesses, to cut the cost of living for consumers and to create the jobs of the future.”

Also read: India and US are ‘nearer to a smaller’ trade deal than ever before, says envoy Sandhu

Why Britain is pushing India

According to sources, Britain has been pushing India for a bilateral trading arrangement ever since the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016.

However, India had been resisting these efforts as it decided that the Brexit process should complete first. This was determined during the India visit of former Britain Prime Minister Theresa May in January 2018.

India is also keen to understand how much of a “special and preferential” access the UK will get in the vast European market now that it is out the EU’s single-market dynamics, said the sources.

But under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is believed to share bonhomie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both sides have decided to formally launch the talks for the FTA, said the sources.

Previously, India and the UK were involved in discussing a preferential trading arrangement under the proposed India-EU FTA, the talks for which are presently in deep freeze.

UK and India discuss border standoff

During the virtual meeting between Shringla and Barton, the two sides also discussed the ongoing border standoff in the Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the troops of India and China.

The UK is one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, and one of the strategic partners of India.

According to sources, India discussed with the UK what the situation is, with both sides having taken first steps towards de-escalation and disengagement after a telephonic conversation between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi.

Doval and Wang, who are also Special Representatives (SR) of India and China on the Boundary Question for their respective countries, discussed “earliest complete disengagement” even as a series of military and diplomatic talks are being planned to reduce tensions.

Apart from the UK, so far India has discussed the standoff with some of its strategic partners such as the US, Russia, Australia, Germany, France and Japan.

Also read: Spoke to Jaishankar on China’s aggression many times, India did its best to respond: Pompeo


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