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India-UK FTA should be the first step in an ever-evolving trade and economic relationship: UK Foreign Secretary

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during a meeting with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, in USA. (Twitter: @DrSJaishankar/PTI)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a highly ambitious goal of getting the Free Trade Agreement between India and Britain that was signed on Diwali. Modi’s current British colleague Liz Truss wants her administration to “match the pace and ambition” of Modi’s Indian president, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.

Cleverly added that the relationship between India and the UK is long-standing and broad and that is a “huge plus” but it also implies it is “quite understandably there is a desire to have a very, very wide-ranging, meaningful free trade agreement.”

“Obviously Prime Minister Modi has set an extremely ambitious goal of getting an agreement for free trade that is signed on Diwali. That means that both of us, as well as Indian negotiators, will need to work extremely and hard, but we’re very eager to do it,” Cleverly told news agency PTI in an interview with PTI on the fringes at the high-level UN General Assembly session.

“We are determined to ensure that the agreement we sign, which should be completed by Diwali, will be the first step towards the ever-changing commercial and financial relationship between us and India. Therefore, there’s plenty to accomplish and not much time,” Cleverly said and added that he’s eager to “match with the ambitions and ambition of Prime Minister.”

“He (Modi) has been an extremely energetic political leader. He’s extremely and very ambitious. He’s determined to India as a whole He’s ambitious about relations with India and all of this is extremely positive. The Prim Minister (Truss) I am aware that because we’ve had this conversation she’s asking us to be able to keep up with the pace and ambition of the Prime Minister of your country. That means that all other ministers, as well as officials, will need to put in the work extremely quick.” Diwali falls on the 24th of October this year.

“We should continue to talk about topics such as climate change, its effects on food security, and, of course, our collective efforts to find a solution to various conflicts around the globe, including obviously that of the Russian invading of Ukraine. Thus, a very extensive and full agenda” Cleverly said.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during a meeting with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, in USA. (Twitter: @DrSJaishankar/PTI)

Foreign Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during a meeting with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, in USA. (Twitter: @DrSJaishankar/PTI)He added that the range of potential agreements also adds complexity. There are certain areas of a free trade agreement like exports and imports of man-made items, agricultural products as well as technology and service industries and the recognition of professional qualifications is “incredibly important now.”

“It is a challenge in a positive way because we have such a strong heritage and inter-woven economies and societies,” he added.

Jaishankar who spoke at an event held at Columbia University, said India has signed a trade agreement with Australia and the UAE recently. “We are at the middle of the pack, and fairly advanced in negotiations with the UK. We’ve restarted negotiations discussions with the EU with a lot of optimism out there. There will be more that could happen.”

Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal said last month that negotiations on the proposed free trade deal with India as well as the UK are moving in a more rapid rate. The deal is designed to increasing bilateral trade and investment between the two nations. India has agreed to a trade deal that includes the UAE in the “record” time and “now our talks with the UK are moving at a faster pace”, Goyal had declared.

The month of January was when India as well as the UK officially began talks on an agreement on free trade. They set a deadline to conclude talks before Diwali.

Cleverly meeting with the External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar late Wednesday evening on UNGA sidelines. It was the first time he had to officially meet his Indian counterpart following Jaishankar’s “very very kind message that he sent congratulating me” when he was appointed to his post as Secretary of State in charge of Foreign Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the United Kingdom under the new government that is headed by Prime Minister Truss who was elected at the beginning of March when Queen Elizabeth had officially asked her to establish an entirely new government.

Just two days following the time Truss saw her at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the 96-year-old British monarch died.

British Ambassador to India Alex Ellis said in New Delhi that the best way to celebrate Diwali be to establish a strong deal on trade that is signed between India as well as the United Kingdom. He said an agreement on free trade (FTA) can lead to more opportunities, jobs and growth for both India as well as the UK.

On the sidelines on the sidelines of an evening, he stated the existence of “high ambition” to complete the India-UK FTA within Diwali — a date previously set by both nations and added that “that would be an auspicious date”.

If one was asked if it is possible to expect an ‘Diwali Dhamaka’ from India with regard to the FTA In response, the British High Commissioner said, “I hope so.” While speaking at the Assocham event, Ellis said: “We have the aim to finish the FTA by Diwali.”

India along with the UK trade mainly in services that account for around 70% of total trade. Both countries are also aiming to grow their trade to 100 billion USD before the turn of the decade.

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