PM Modi, Boris Johnson set Diwali deadline for India-UK free trade pact

Apr 22, 2022 10:04 PM IST

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he and PM Modi were telling their respective negotiators to get the India-UK free trade pact done by Diwali.

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his UK counterpart Boris Johnson on Friday set a target of concluding negotiations for a free trade deal by October, and unveiled an expanded defence partnership that envisages easier access to British military hardware and technology.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in New Delhi . Johnson said the India-UK free trade pact could “double our trade and investment by the end of decade”. (ANI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in New Delhi . Johnson said the India-UK free trade pact could “double our trade and investment by the end of decade”. (ANI)

During their meeting in the national capital, the two leaders also discussed ways to enhance cooperation in green technology and health care, and exchanged views on issues such as counterterrorism, ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific, the situation in Afghanistan, and the Ukraine crisis.

During the talks, the Indian side made it clear there was “no pressure of any kind” from Johnson on the Ukraine conflict, while the British premier framed the discussions in the context of democracies working together to tackle “shared anxieties about autocracies and autocratic coercion around the world”.

A proposed free trade agreement (FTA) was one of the priorities of Johnson’s visit, with the two sides set to begin the third round of negotiations on the deal from April 25. The two prime ministers set a target for concluding the “majority of talks on a comprehensive and balanced free trade agreement by the end of October”, according to a joint statement.

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As the next round of talks begins here next week, we are telling our negotiators – get it done by Diwali in October...This could double our trade and investment by the end of the decade,” Johnson said at a joint media interaction with Modi.

Modi said teams from both sides have made good progress in negotiations and the two countries have decided to make full efforts to conclude the FTA by the end of this year.

“In the last few months, India has concluded FTAs with the UAE and Australia. At the same pace, with the same commitment, we would like to move forward on the FTA with the UK as well,” he said.

Addressing a news conference subsequently, Johnson acknowledged there were difficult issues such as tariffs on whisky but said there is also a “massive push” from both governments to get the FTA done. “All trade agreements are tricky... there will be tough asks on both sides but I’m sure we can do it,” he said.

“A firm message has gone out from our friends to make progress, and I’m optimistic,” Johnson added.

During the joint media interaction with Modi, Johnson underscored the need to deepen cooperation between India and the UK, including keeping the Indo-Pacific open and free, in the face of threats such as “autocratic coercion”. In this context, he said the two sides had agreed on a new and expanded defence and security partnership that will also support the “Make in India” initiative.

“The UK is creating an India-specific Open General Export License, reducing bureaucracy and slashing delivering times for defence procurement. We’ve agreed to work together to meet new threats across land, sea, air, space and cyber, including partnering on new fighter jet technology [and] maritime technologies to detect and respond to threats in the oceans,” he said.

Modi welcomed the UK’s support for “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (Self-reliant India) in all sectors of manufacturing, technology, design and development in the defence sector.

Defence and security cooperation is one of the five pillars of the India-UK comprehensive strategic partnership and the Roadmap 2030. According to the joint statement, the two sides agreed to deepen cooperation, including by quickly resolving legacy issues and intensifying cooperation under the India-UK Defence and International Security Partnership framework.

The two sides also finalised a letter of arrangement between the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation to deliver advanced security capabilities through joint research, co-design, co-development and joint production of defence technology and systems.

As part of these efforts, India and the UK have established a joint working group on electric propulsion capability partnership with the goal of developing maritime electric propulsion systems. The two sides are also collaborating on modern fighter aircraft and jet engine technology. “Both sides agreed to work bilaterally and with key partner countries to facilitate highest level access to technology to Indian industry,” the joint statement said.

India and the UK are also eyeing collaboration for manufacturing defence systems, spare parts, components and other related products under the “Make in India” programme through co-development, transfer of technology and setting up of joint ventures for meeting the needs of the armed forces of India and other countries.

When Johnson was asked about the steps to be taken by the UK to boost defence cooperation against the backdrop of the two countries not having signed any major defence deals since the 2003 contact for the Hawk jets, he replied that the focus would be on bringing Indian and British companies together for co-production and joint development that “satisfies the Make in India objective but also works in terms of technology transfers”.

The national security advisers and defence and foreign ministers of the two countries will “get together in a rolling programme so that we can make progress on this within a year”, Johnson added.

India and the UK also expressed serious concern on the situation in Afghanistan and the humanitarian crisis, violations of human rights and the hampered access of girls and women to education. Both prime ministers called on the Taliban to allow girls to return to secondary school, and Modi acknowledged the UK’s role in co-hosting the UN Afghanistan Conference for humanitarian response in March.

Johnson acknowledged India’s role in providing medical and food assistance to the Afghan people and the two leaders reaffirmed the importance of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2593, which unequivocally demands that Afghan territory not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing terrorist acts. They also called for concerted action against all terrorist groups and reiterated the need for a representative and inclusive political system in support of a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan.

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