Business Standard

After PMO review, India makes likely final push for UK FTA

Officials head to London for ironing out pending issues

- SHREYA NANDI New Delhi, 20 February

In what may turn out to be a last push before the Lok Sabha elections, a team of officials from the commerce department, headed by secretary Sunil Barthwal, will be travelling to London to iron out sticky issues pertaining to the proposed trade deal between India and the United Kingdom (UK). The timing remains crucial since the poll panel can announce the model code of conduct (MCC) for the general elections any time now. And, both the countries are trying to conclude the free-trade agreement (FTA) before that, people aware of the matter said.

Barthwal’s visit comes days after the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) reviewed the progress of the much-awaited deal on Friday.

Last month, a UK delegation led by Chief Economic Adviser Douglas Mcneill met top government officials, including those from the PMO, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Economic Affairs Secretary Ajay Seth in New Delhi. There were discussion­s on the proposed FTA and an investment treaty.

If the negotiatio­ns are not wrapped up at the earliest, discussion­s will have to be taken forward after the elections, depending on the priorities of the new government. After that, UK elections are expected to be held in the second half of 2024.

FTA negotiatio­ns between India and the UK were launched over two years ago — January 13, 2022. Till now, as many as 14 rounds of negotiatio­ns have taken place. Some of the contentiou­s issues include the UK'S demands for lower tariffs on whisky and automobile­s, including electric vehicles. It is also seeking more opportunit­ies in the telecommun­ications, legal and financial services sectors in India. Other sticky areas include chapters on rules of origin and intellectu­al property rights.

Similarly, India is bargaining hard to seek a resolution on London's plan to roll out carbon border tax on its imported goods from 2027 and an inclusion of a social security agreement.

Last week, Barthwal had told reporters that negotiatio­ns are at an advanced stage, and both sides are working to iron out difference­s on the remaining issues. He added that the negotiatio­ns are taking time because the government wants to safeguard India's interest. “India should commercial­ly gain out of it and we should also be able to safeguard the interests of our farmers and production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme goods. So, we are there to see that the deal is fair,” he had said.

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