India, UK to forge 10-year roadmap for ties, push talks on trade deal
India and the UK on Tuesday agreed on key elements of a 10-year roadmap to enhance their relationship and pledged to fast track talks on a free trade agreement against the backdrop of Britain looking to enhance its trade ties amid its troubled exit from the European Union.
During talks between visiting UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab and his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar, the two sides decided to work on common challenges and shared opportunities across the Indo-Pacific. Raab said Britain’s upcoming integrated strategic review will contain an “Indo-Pacific tilt” and there is “no stronger partner” in the east than India.
The British side accepted the Indian government’s invitation to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to be the chief guest at next year’s Republic Day celebrations. Jaishankar said Johnson’s presence will symbolise a new phase of the relationship. This will be the sixth time a British leader will be the chief guest at the celebrations, and the honour was last extended to UK prime minister John Major in 1993.
Tuesday’s four-hour long discussions between the foreign ministers focused on enhanced cooperation in five areas – connecting people, trade, defence and security, climate change and health – and the two sides also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, evolution of the Indo-Pacific, developments in the Middle East and challenges posed by terrorism and radicalism.
“We agreed on key elements of a 10-year UK-India roadmap so that we can deliver a step change in ambition for the relationship between our two countries. We look forward to taking this forward in 2021, including through the UK’s presidency of the G7 and presidency of the UN climate change conference,” Raab said.
The two sides had agreed to prioritise the finalisation of an “ambitious, 360-degree roadmap” for upgrading relations that will be adopted during Johnson’s visit in January, the external affairs ministry said.
People familiar with developments said the India-China border standoff figured during discussions on the regional security situation.
With the UK seeking to build stronger trade ties around the world amid its messy exit from the European Union (EU) and difficulties in forging a post-Brexit trade deal, Raab said the end of the transition period will allow Britain to regain control of the ability to strike free trade agreements with the rest of the world, especially in the Indo-Pacific.
“What we recognise is the possibilities for a deeper trading relationship [with India and] we see a very powerful strategic case. So I think we will want to nudge our trade negotiators along and see what we can achieve,” Raab said, and his remarks were endorsed by Jaishankar.
Both sides, “recognised the importance of fast tracking the discussions on a trade deal” and concluding a comprehensive migration and mobility partnership agreement to facilitate movement of students and professionals, the external affairs ministry said.
Jaishankar added that the trade ministers of the two sides have already had discussions on a trade deal and “there is a serious intent to take our trade relationship forward”.
Raab said bilateral trade was growing at 11% before the Covid-19 pandemic and investments by the two sides supported more than 500,000 jobs in both countries. The two sides will work towards an “enhanced trade partnership” next year with the hope that it will be a “stepping stone towards a free trade agreement”, he said.
Referring to the Indo-Pacific as a region with growth opportunities for several decades, Raab – the first foreign minister to make a bilateral visit to India in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic – said both countries have shared interests and challenges in this region, including maritime security, vulnerability of supply chains and climate change.
The UK’s integrated strategic review will point to an “Indo-Pacific tilt”, he said, adding: “There will be no stronger partner as we look further to the east than India.”
Jaishankar added: “The Indo-Pacific is a reality because...it is an articulation of globalisation, the fact that you can’t deal with different theatres in a watertight way. The kind of challenges the world faces today – climate change, maritime security, terrorism [and] the opportunity to increase connectivity – all these require a larger arena and more coordinated efforts.”
Raab highlighted the UK’s desire to build a stronger defence and security partnership with India to tackle shared concerns such as terrorism and maritime security, and to focus on new challenges such as making the telecommunications and 5G networks “more secure and resilient”.
The two sides also discussed ways to hasten post-Covid-19 economic recovery, including innovation and facilitating the flow of talent, and the equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. Principal scientific advisor K VijayRaghavan, who coordinates India’s vaccine response, also participated in the meeting.
The Serum Institute of India has partnered with global pharma giant AstraZeneca to produce the University of Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine for low-and-middle income countries.