India, U.K. to begin trade talks from November 1


Government eying ‘early harvest’ deal by March.

Formal negotiations for a proposed India-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement (FTA) would begin on November 1, with an interim ‘early harvest’ agreement to be completed by March 2022, the government stated on Tuesday.

The interim trade pact would involve early tariff or market access concessions on certain key ‘high priority products and services’, the Commerce and Industry Ministry said in a statement following Minister Piyush Goyal’s meeting with his British counterpart, International Trade Secretary Elizabeth Truss on Monday.

The U.K. government, in a separate statement, noted that the two Ministers agreed on the steps to get ready to launch negotiations ‘later this year’, including a series of trade working groups from September to help both sides ‘better understand each other’s position on potential chapter areas in any trade deal including tariffs, standards, IP and data regulation’.

“The International Trade Secretary reaffirmed her ambition to negotiate a trade agreement that delivers results for the British people and businesses including those in digital and data, tech and food and drink,” the U.K. statement highlighted, indicating its priority areas.

‘Extraordinary’opportunities

The proposed FTA would unlock the ‘extraordinary’ business opportunities and generate jobs, Mr. Goyal stressed. He emphasised the need to strike a balance between commitments and concessions in goods and services. Discussions to finalise the terms of reference for the FTA negotiations would begin on October 1, he observed.

The UK India Business Council, in its pre-FTA submission to the U.K. Department of International Trade, had sought measures to ensure tax parity between the U.K. and Indian businesses and lower tariffs on alcoholic spirits and medical devices, among other items.

It had also pitched for curbing non-tariff barriers to goods trade by aligning standards and ‘simplifying burdensome and costly customs procedures’ and steps such as ‘IP protection and alignment of data protection rules to enable digitally driven future focussed’ industries.

Industry is also backing mutual recognition of qualifications in higher education and the professional services, which the Indian minister alluded to in his talks with Ms. Truss.

“Certain services of mutual interest may be included in the interim agreement through a request-offer approach, wherein we may include priority sectors which are immediately deliverable. If necessary, we may also explore signing of few Mutual Recognition Agreements in selective services like nursing and architecture services,” Mr. Goyal added.

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