Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab have agreed to set firm schedules to keep the UK-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations on track.
At the end of a packed UK visit, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar concluded the bilateral discussions with his UK counterpart, Dominic Raab, by agreeing on a clear plan to implement the ‘2030 Roadmap’ of the Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP) to pave the way for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries.
“I am not sure who’s the greater control freak – we like lists and deadlines and schedules and we both want to make this mean something; be the political guardians of this process and make sure the trade negotiations are kept on track,” Raab revealed during a ‘India and the United Kingdom in a Post-COVID World’ event organised by the Policy Exchange think tank at the end of Jaishankar’s London tour.
The Indian minister had been invited as a guest at the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers Meeting by Raab, who referred to him as his friend “Jai”.
“An important aspect of the Indo-Pacific tilt was to put rocket boosters under Britain’s relationship with India,” noted the UK minister, who credited his Indian counterpart with much of what had been achieved in the past week – which included a Virtual Summit between Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi that resulted in the ETP.
“Our Prime Ministers held a virtual summit that has truly redefined the contours of our relationship. They agreed on an ambitious roadmap for 2030 that sets forth their vision of cooperation in great detail," Jaishankar said during his Policy Exchange address.
“Underlying this exercise is a larger convergence at how we look at the world and grapple with issues that both nations deal with every day. This is expressed in our working together in defence and security, in undertaking climate action and development partnerships, in responding to terrorism and radicalisation, or indeed, in how we approach pandemics and cyber challenges,” he said.
From India’s viewpoint, the minister highlighted the many UKs that it seeks to engage simultaneously: the Global Britain, the Atlantic UK, the European one after Brexit, the City of London, the non-London UK, the diaspora one, the innovation and education UK, and the strategic and historical UKs.
“Given the rebalancing and multipolarity that characterises the contemporary world order, it is natural for two powers such as us to explore greater convergence. That we have a shared past, may sometimes be a mixed blessing; but vision and will can certainly help put it to good use. The more objectively the two nations perceive each other’s role and contribution in the larger arena, the stronger is the case for a serious strategic relationship,” he said.
However, the minister was also quick to highlight the importance of distinguishing between convergence of views and congruence.
He noted: “We are complementary societies and economies who each have strengths relevant to the other. Bringing them together more effectively is to our mutual advantage. A Global UK is probably more likely to do so than its previous incarnation, just as a New India is more forward looking than previously.
“In that sense, we could be ready to approach each other with clearer heads and fresher eyes to realise a shared set of goals in a more turbulent world. But these will not be without challenges, because convergence is still not congruence. Our own inhibitions will be a factor, as also perhaps the growing complexity of world politics.”
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said the ministers welcomed the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the UK and India and discussed how they could coordinate efforts to deliver deeper cooperation and collaboration between the two countries. The senior Cabinet ministers also focussed on the importance of working together to tackle global challenges such as climate change, coronavirus and countering shared threats including malign cyber activity.
“The two ministers reflected on key achievements, such as the Enhanced Trade Partnership announced earlier this week, which removes market barriers and will help create new British and Indian jobs, including in strategic areas like science and technology,” an FCDO spokesperson said.
“Building on their discussions in New Delhi last December, the Ministers agreed to ensure delivery of the 2030 Roadmap for India-UK future relations, agreed by the Prime Minister [Boris Johnson] and Prime Minister Modi on 4 May, as the foundation of an elevated UK-India relationship,” the spokesperson said.
The duo also discussed priority areas for further progress, across trade, defence and security, climate, and health, and also welcomed the Migration and Mobility Partnership, announced this week, which they believe will strengthen the “living bridge” of people between the UK and India.
The FCDO spokesperson added: “On climate change both ministers agreed that it was important to build on the momentum growing among the international community ahead of COP26 in Glasgow. They discussed regional issues including the UK’s successful application for ASEAN Dialogue Partner status, and how the two countries and ASEAN nations could work together to bring an end to the military coup in Myanmar.
“Finally, they discussed the need for deeper collaboration to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and agreed on the need for swift and equitable access to vaccines around the world.”
With FTA talks scheduled to kick-start in a few months’ time, the political guardians of the process have their task cut out for them.