UK Secretary of State Liz Truss and Indian Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal met up for yet another virtual dialogue session to take stock of the progress made towards an Enhanced UK-India Trade Partnership.
At the end of the first-ever virtual Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO) back in July, Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal had said that both sides were agreed on keeping the foot firmly on the accelerator towards striking Early Harvest Agreements which would eventually pave the way for a much-anticipated UK-India free trade agreement (FTA). It would seem that plan is on track as Goyal and Indian Minister of State for Commerce, Hardeep Singh Puri, held another virtual dialogue with their UK counterparts on November 9 to review the progress made in removing barriers towards an Enhanced Trade Partnership. UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss was joined by UK Minister for International Trade, Ranil Jayawardena, during which both sides agreed to accelerate the "deepening" of trade ties, which involved a discussion on a range of UK products and steps taken so far to unlock market access barriers to open up further opportunities for businesses on both sides. Scotch whisky, one of the key UK products Goyal had revealed as being on the table, featured during the stock-take meeting this week.
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“The November Ministerial demonstrated the strength of the long-standing UK-India relationship, with both parties agreeing to continue to drive forward progress through the Enhanced Trade Partnership, which could lead to a free trade agreement in the future,” a Department for International Trade (DIT) spokesperson said.
The follow up comes after the two senior ministers, Goyal and Truss, had agreed to prioritise five key areas - life sciences, information communications technology (ICT), food and drink, chemicals, and services - to address non-tariff barriers to trade, with the ultimate goal being an FTA.
According to officials in the know, both delegations committed to continue working together closely on areas of mutual interest and benefit, and to accelerate the already deepening India-UK trade and investment partnership. The ministers also reaffirmed the importance of "resilient supply chains" and ongoing cooperation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The meeting follows a series of high-profile interactions on both sides in recent weeks and months, most recently with the visit of Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to the UK last week.
“We are looking at Early Harvest deals, which would bring benefits to both our countries, followed by a more detailed, either preferential trade agreement or a free trade agreement," the Foreign Secretary had confirmed during his visit to London.
"Obviously, a limited deal means we work on those areas on which both sides can immediately agree to. We need more time to conclude a more comprehensive trade agreement, but our ministers are in touch and will work on trying to close such a deal,” he said.
The latest round of UK-India talks come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a major addition to the UK government's ability to attract foreign investment, in the form of a newly established Office for Investment this week. The new office is devised to support the landing of high value investment opportunities into the UK which align with key government priorities, such as reaching net zero, investment in infrastructure and advancing research and development.
The DIT said the new office will also ensure the UK is well positioned to maximise the benefits that flow from free trade agreements with international partners, including India.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said: “Now is the time to be bold and ambitious in how we trade with partners around the world. Our more strategic approach to inward investment will help level up the UK, creating more jobs and prosperity across the country.”
“The office will build our reputation as a world leader in industries of the future such as tech, services, advanced manufacturing and clean growth.”
Staffed by “highly experienced” individuals with both private sector and cross-government experience, the office will be based at the DIT, with Minister for Investment Gerry Grimstone leading its work in close partnership with No. 10 Downing Street, under the sponsorship of UK PM Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Lord Grimstone said: “If we are to build back better from this pandemic, we need to refocus and re-double our efforts to attract foreign investment, which will increase productivity, economic growth across the country, boost our exports and better our research and development environment.
“We must sharpen our priorities and transform our investment offer accordingly to meet the demands of a changing global economic outlook - whether that be in greener or increased digitally-led opportunities. The Office for Investment will make it easier for international investors by bringing the very best of the UK directly to them.”