'Diwali target for India-UK FTA possible but not definite'

Diwali target for India-UK FTA possible but not definite

London: It is always good to have a deadline to work towards while negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) but the Diwali target set for the India-UK FTA by the outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not have to be set in stone, according to strategic and industry experts here.

At the end of a week of monumental political turmoil which ended with Johnson announcing his resignation to make way for a new Prime Minister in a few months' time, the inevitable focus has been on what this means for India-UK bilateral ties generally and the historic FTA now in its fourth phase of negotiations more specifically.

While there is general consensus that there is unlikely to be any significant shift in foreign policy stance under a new Conservative Party incumbent at 10 Downing Street, a delay of a few months to the October deadline for the conclusion of a draft FTA may well be on the cards.

India did some very quick deals with the UAE and Australia, in less than 90 days, but those are much lighter in content and comprehensiveness than what we are planning with the UK-India FTA, said Confederation of British Industry (CBI) President Lord Karan Bilimoria, who heads up the UK-India Industry Taskforce as a joint commission to enhance cross-industry collaboration on the ongoing trade negotiations.

I would much rather have a more comprehensive deal that takes slightly longer to complete. It's good to have a deadline, good to have that target to try and finish by Diwali. But it may not be the end of October but the end of December; my target is the end of this year, said the Indian-origin businessman.

Diwali falls on October 24 this year.

He warned of inevitable last-minute issues but remained very optimistic about completing a comprehensive pact within this year because of the reports of good progress in completing the estimated 26 chapters.

In New Delhi, an official said there are no immediate indications about the impact of the recent political developments in Britain on the advanced India-UK negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) which aims at further strengthening bilateral economic ties. Getting a good, fair and equitable trade deal that would boost exports and create numerous jobs across India is the priority, the official said.

When asked about meeting the deadline of concluding talks, the official said: FTA negotiations are very complex area and they involve a lot of careful assessment of different elements of FTAs and we continue to do that in right earnest both sides and we will put in our best effort to meet these very challenging deadlines .

According to the latest UK Department for International Relations (DIT) statistics, India-UK total trade in goods and services stands at GBP 24.3 billion with UK exports to India amounting to GBP 8.4 billion and UK imports from India at GBP 15.9 billion.

The target set under the Johnson-Modi Roadmap is to at least double those figures by 2030, with experts of the view that an FTA could take those trade figures even


Boris Johnson's prime ministership saw an unprecedented political commitment towards boosting ties with India, reciprocated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, Senior Fellow for South Asia at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think tank.

While Johnson firmly laid the direction of travel with India, he leaves before the pace of travel has been determined... [and] with Johnson as a caretaker Prime Minister, it remains to be seen how effectively he can conclude a landmark bilateral FTA by October, to be signed by his successor, and whether a much-needed legacy defence technology cooperation can be achieved," he said.

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