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India, UK push to resolve FTA issues ahead of impending polls

Live Mint - 07 March 2024

India, UK push to resolve FTA issues ahead of impending polls
By Dhirendra Kumar , Rhik Kundu

India and the UK will make a last-ditch attempt in the coming days to iron out sticky issues and sign the free trade agreement (FTA), two people aware of the matter said. The push comes especially as India gears up for general elections, with the Narendra Modi-led government eyeing a third term.

Despite FTA talks at an advanced stage, unresolved issues threaten to delay the signing until after the elections, said the people cited above.

"Though both sides are close to signing a deal, the inking of the deal could be pushed to after the upcoming polls if consensus is not reached on certain issues, as there’s hardly any time and election dates could be announced anytime now," one of the persons cited above said.

A British delegation is currently in New Delhi for in-person negotiations and the Indian side is hoping to push through with the unresolved issues, the other person cited above said.

The commerce ministry did not respond to emailed queries.

Key sticking points in the negotiations include visa allocations and mobility, with India advocating for increased access for its skilled professionals and certain goods in the UK market, such as nil customs duty access.

Conversely, the UK’s demands focus on reduced import duties for products like whiskey, electric vehicles, and chocolates.

The critical nature of these negotiations is heightened by the upcoming declaration of general election dates. This announcement will trigger the implementation of the model code of conduct, effectively barring the Indian government from introducing new economic policies.

Recent efforts to bridge these gaps included a visit to London by an Indian delegation led by commerce secretary Sunil Barthwal, alongside a review by the Prime Minister’s Office of the FTA’s progress.

With bilateral trade growing from $17.5 billion in fiscal year 2022 (FY22) to $20.36 billion in FY223, India and the UK are committed to developing a comprehensive and mutually beneficial trade relationship.

The FTA’s journey has been fraught with delays, now exceeding a year past its initial deadline, largely due to complex issues like professional visas, duties on various goods, and migration concerns—a sensitive subject in the UK since Brexit.

 source: Live Mint