As we turn the page on 2020, the UK’s exit from the European single market and customs union is a major international development. After four-and-a-half years of the British vote to leave the EU, and much wrangling in between over a Brexit deal, London is now free to chart its own course. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson now envisions a more proactive role for his country in international politics. With the global order already transforming due to the rise of an assertive China and the Covid-induced pandemic, London could play a key role in upholding democratic, liberal values, and building back the global economy better.
The flux in international systems means that countries are also re-evaluating their positions. Multilateralism is on its last legs as reciprocity becomes the watchword – thanks in large part due to the distrust created by China gaming trade rules. But the economic recovery from Covid necessitates that countries like India and the UK – both of whom have seen substantial economic contractions over the past year – work on bilateral and plurilateral trade deals with a strategic vision. For both, Beijing’s belligerence has become a problem.
There already exists much complementarity between the two sides as exemplified by the partnership between Oxford University-AstraZeneca and Serum Institute on the Covid vaccine. But the two countries must display pragmatic flexibility to achieve a deal and not repeat the bureaucratic wrangles that stalled the India-EU trade talks after 16 rounds. In fact, an India-UK FTA should serve as a template for a future India-EU deal. Having sat out the RCEP trade agreement over concerns on China, India must build economic bridges elsewhere, particularly with the Western world whose capital and technology offer the key to its transformation. Beijing just concluded an investment deal with the EU. New Delhi mustn’t be a hesitant late comer to every party.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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