The free trade agreement (FTA) talks between India and the UK are now in their final phase and despite some outstanding issues to be resolved, there is optimism on both sides that the Diwali deadline for a draft will be met, according to the Lord Mayor of London.
Vincent Keaveny, the 693rd Lord Mayor who represents the financial hub of the City of London globally, has just returned from a four-day visit to India following meetings with leading Indian businesses and investors and finance chiefs at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI).
As London’s ambassador for financial and professional services, the Lord Mayor’s visit was aimed at strengthening India-UK financial services links, building strong and sustainable two-way capital flows.
“It was a really good time to be in India with the FTA negotiations entering into their final phase,” Keaveny told PTI. “Prime Minister Modi has made it clear that he wants to sign the FTA by Diwali. There are some outstanding issues to be resolved but I think there’s a lot of optimism on both sides that we will get that done. Whatever the content of the agreement, it will be a real positive for the relationship between India and the UK across the board in the coming years,” he said.
His visit comes amid reports that Modi may be planning a visit to the UK to sign the FTA around Diwali, which falls on October 24. The timeline had been set during former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to India in April and there had been some speculation whether the change of leadership in the UK might impact that deadline. Asked about the prospect, the Lord Mayor expressed optimism: “It is a tight deadline but there is optimism.
“Prime Minister Liz Truss is deeply engaged in international trade, she’s served as trade secretary and had a trade focus to her time as foreign secretary… we have a Prime Minister very conscious of trade issues and will be well placed to take this to the final leg.” Keaveny, who also addressed the Global Fintech Festival in Mumbai earlier this week, highlighted the huge demand for digital services in India as a sign of the growing India-UK exchanges in the field.
“London is Europe’s top fintech hub. And we can all see that India is on the way to becoming Asia’s top fintech hub – with the highest fintech adoption rates in the entire world and the emergence of many unicorns,” he said.
“As well as talent, we have the opportunity to enhance the connectivity between the UK and India fintech ecosystems – both business-to-business connections, but also connections through hubs and accelerators. Underscored by the UK-India relationship being at an all-time high. The free trade agreement negotiations will pave the way for significantly stronger trade flows between our nations significantly,” he said.
With reference to his discussions with RBI and SEBI, the Lord Mayor described very “positive engagements” on sustainable finance as an area of “tremendous opportunity”.
“India has a very large infrastructure investment requirement, running into trillions of dollars. There is an opportunity here, which we in the City of London would be keen to support – to bring the capital that is there in the international markets into projects in India that need that capital for investment in infrastructure. That is a tremendous opportunity,” he said.
However, he also pointed to some areas where there is less of a “meeting of minds”, such as Indian companies being able to list their shares directly on the international stock exchanges.
“Proposals to allow that to happen are currently on hold. We continue to advocate for that to happen. I think it will be beneficial to Indian corporates and the Indian corporate community to tell its story much more directly in the international markets,” he said.