British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday reiterated the Diwali timeline for a draft India-UK free trade agreement (FTA), declaring that the proposed trade deal with New Delhi would be the biggest yet in the post-Brexit context.
In a statement to mark the start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in the Rwandan capital of Kigali on Monday, Johnson plugged for the “Commonwealth advantage” which added immense value to all 54-member countries of the organisation.
He pointed out how India, as the largest member of the grouping, will be at the same table as the smallest for CHOGM, indicating the diverse strengths of the Commonwealth.
“The Pacific archipelago of Tuvalu (population of 11,000) will be at the same table as India (population 1.3 billion). Yet for all the differences between us, we are joined by an invisible thread of shared values, history and institutions and of course the English language,” Johnson writes in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ newspaper.
“All of this creates a unique opportunity for Britain whereby the Commonwealth – and only the Commonwealth – combines vast and rapidly growing markets with a real and quantified trading advantage. That is why we are mobilising the UK’s regained sovereignty to sign free trade or economic partnership agreements with as many Commonwealth countries as possible. So far we’ve done 33, including Australia and New Zealand, and we’re aiming for India, the biggest of them all, by Diwali in October,” he said.
It was during his visit to India in April that Johnson and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that the negotiating teams on both sides must work towards a Diwali timeline for the completion of a draft free trade agreement.
The teams are now in the midst of the fourth round of FTA talks, with the Commerce Secretary flying in from India for the ongoing negotiations in the UK.
“Things are going so well, we are completing chapters so rapidly and making progress on the other chapters yet to be completed,” Indian High Commissioner to the UK Gaitri Issar Kumar told reporters at a farewell event organised for the outgoing envoy by the Indian Journalists’ Association (IJA) in London on Friday.
“The interesting thing which I learnt is that our Ministry of Commerce has opened up so many more areas to the UK, more than the other countries, and I am really happy that is happening. As the envoy of my government in the UK, I would really like to see this to be the best FTA of India with any country because I just feel there are so many complementary strengths… just the fact that we are engaging so intensively is a very good sign,” she said.
During a visit to the UK last month, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal had also indicated good progress towards the Diwali deadline.
“With the UK, we had agreed to do an early harvest agreement – basically, to grab the low-hanging fruits and leave the more difficult elements for the next stage… But the way things are progressing, we’ll actually land up doing a full FTA with the UK by Diwali,” he said at the time.
The focus of the FTA negotiations is on reducing the barriers to trade, cutting tariffs, and supporting companies to export.
According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), an FTA with India is expected to nearly double UK exports to India.
A trade deal is also expected to boost Britain’s total trade by as much as GBP 28 billion a year by 2035 and increase wages across the UK regions by GBP 3 billion, according to industry estimates.
“A free trade agreement with the world’s fastest growing economy is now within touching distance, and to clinch that deal a focus on lowering barriers to trade is now essential,” said CBI President Lord Karan Bilimoria, who recently launched the UK India Industry Taskforce as a joint commission to increase cross-industry collaboration on the FTA talks.
According to the UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT), India-UK bilateral trade currently stands at around GBP 24 billion a year.
In May last year, Johnson and Modi clinched an enhanced trade partnership with the goal to at least double bilateral trade to GBP 50 billion by 2030.
Industry experts hope this figure could be boosted further with the conclusion of the FTA.