FTA: negotiations with UK could be postponed until January 2022

Change of cabinet in Britain and need for more ‘pre-negotiation’ talks cited as main reasons

India-UK negotiations on a Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) could be postponed until January 2022, a change of Cabinet in the UK and the need for more ‘pre-negotiation’ talks being the main reasons why talks do not start in November as planned, officials said.

The two sides also had to put aside a plan for Trade and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal to meet with UK Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan on the sidelines of the WTO Ministerial Conference (MC 12) which is due to open in Geneva on November 30. Early Saturday, the WTO meeting was postponed indefinitely due to concerns over the spread of the new “Omicron” variant.

Early harvest agreement

The timetable for the FTA negotiations, which included the announcement of an ‘early harvest deal’ by March 2022, was decided at a meeting between Mr Goyal and UK Minister for International Trade Liz Truss September 14.

However, Ms Truss was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and was replaced by Ms Trevelyan just a day later. In a speech last week, Trevelyan reaffirmed that the two sides were committed to launching trade talks “soon”, but did not announce a new date.

“We aim to complete the pre-negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India this year and start negotiations as soon as possible,” The Hindu, indicating a delay in the timeline.

The preparatory talks for the FTA, which were to be organized by a number of Bilateral Working Groups (GTBs) which began in September, were to lead to “joint scoping” discussions in October, which would define the main priorities, including including the UK’s desire to lower tariffs. and market access for UK law firms, and Indian pressure for a full service agreement.

The BWGs were expected to have set terms of reference for launching negotiations by November 1, according to talks between the two governments after PM Modi and PM Johnson announced a plan for an enhanced trade partnership at their virtual summit in May. .

The UK spokesperson for HC said the UK was planning to release more details on its ‘negotiating priorities’ and a full economic assessment of the potential UK-India FTA, but would not comment. not reports suggesting that an “early harvest deal” could be postponed altogether.

Another official, who preferred not to be named, said the two sides were now looking for possible dates in January for the start of talks.

Asked about the state of negotiations, the Commerce Ministry called the request “speculative” and said “negotiations are continuing”. Highlighting the changing of the guard in the UK, the ministry said Mr Goyal met Ms Trevelyan at the G-20 summit where bilateral trade issues were also discussed.

At the end of this meeting on October 12 on the sidelines of a meeting of G-20 trade ministers in Sorrento, Italy, Mr. Goyal stressed that “rapid FTA negotiations” would allow the economic partnership to stimulate the economic prosperity of both countries.

A report by the UK-India Business Council “Road to a UK-India Free Trade Agreement: Enhancing the Partnership and Achieving Self-dependance”, which had been consulted by the UK government prior to the talks, pointed out India’s intellectual property (PI) enforcement regime, gaps in pharmaceutical sector regulations, drug price controls, standards related to data localization and governance.

The Council also raised concerns about high tariffs such as 150% on UK-made Scotch Whiskey and the ban on its sale in CSD canteens.

Officials pointed out that despite Brexit, the UK’s exit from the European Union and even in the absence of an FTA, bilateral trade stands at £ 18 billion or $ 24 billion, supporting nearly half a million jobs.

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