India-UK trade talks on fast track
India and the UK are committed to a free trade agreement (FTA) and will kick off that process with “Early Harvest Agreements” as a start, the Indian government said following the first-ever virtual India-UK Joint Economic and Trade Committee (Jetco) on Friday.
Minister of commerce and industry Piyush Goyal and UK secretary of state for international trade Liz Truss agreed to intensify the work of joint working groups through frequent meetings in order to achieve some of the Early Harvest Agreements.
Goyal and Truss also plan to meet again in New Delhi in the coming months to follow up on the progress of these new proposed pacts.
“India and the UK are committed to a free trade agreement; Early Harvest Agreements for a start,” the Indian High Commission in London said in a Twitter statement in reference to the 14th Jetco meeting.
“Working groups will intensify efforts and meeting frequently; (there will be) monthly meetings of MOSs (ministers of state); commerce and industry minister (Goyal) and secretary of state at the department for international development (Truss) to meet in autumn 2020 in New Delhi,” the statement noted.
As a follow up to the Jetco talks, minister of state for commerce and industry and civil aviation Hardeep Singh Puri and his UK counterpart Ranil Jayawardena will conduct monthly meetings to intensify the dialogue.
Ahead of Friday’s meeting, both sides had identified trade priorities through a joint review and shortlisted life sciences, information communication technology, food and drink, chemicals and services as the five priority areas to address non-tariff barriers to trade during the annual dialogue being held this year against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.
India-UK Working Groups on Life Science and Health, ICT and Food and Drink – three of the five priority sectors identified in a Joint Trade Review last year – made their recommendations to the ministers this week.
The formal segment of the virtual talks was followed by a plenary session led by Puri and Jayawardena, alongside UK Minister of State for Investment Gerry Grimstone who interacted with business leaders including Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Director-General Chandrajit Banerjee and Co-Chair of the India-UK CEOs' Forum Alay Piramal.
“Both sides approaching talks with open minds and commitment for close cooperation for post-Covid economic revival and revitalisation of long-standing trade and economic linkages. Talks will cover wide range of themes for post-Brexit India-UK trade arrangements,” noted the Indian High Commission in London.
Earlier this month, during India Global Week 2020, Truss had said that her Department for International Trade (DIT) was not “letting the grass grow under our feet” and therefore the dialogue will carry on virtually amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“During the COVID crisis, we have been working with India to keep supply chains open and keeping trading routes alive and as we emerge from COVID, it is vitally important we don't move to protectionism,” she said.
Later, addressing a separate session, Goyal had reiterated that India remains ready to strike an early post-Brexit deal with the UK with further details to follow later.
”Free trade agreement (FTA) should be our goal, but we can do a PTA [preferential trade agreement] in an immediate future,” he said.