In what has been described as a significant step forward, India and the UK have agreed that a new Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP) should be ready to be signed off when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits India in the coming months.
Johnson had postponed a planned visit to New Delhi as the Chief Guest for Republic Day last month due to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis domestically and has said that he intends to make a visit to India ahead of the G7 Summit, presided over by the UK this year. Meanwhile, UK Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, was in New Delhi for a five-day visit between February 5-9 for talks with her counterpart, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, and Minister of State Hardeep Singh Puri.
The ministerial level talks concluded with an agreement of the terms under which a new ETP will be finalised, to be formally launched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Johnson when they meet in New Delhi ahead of an expected visit by the Indian PM to the UK for the G7 Summit in June.
Truss’ India visit, packed with several meetings and a visit to the Serum Institute of India where the Oxford University’s Covid-19 vaccine is being produced, also resulted in several investment wins. Indian tech major Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has confirmed plans to add 1,500 high-skilled jobs to sites all over the UK and Indian pharmaceutical and biotech giant Wockhardt confirmed further investment at Wrexham in Wales, leading to more than 40 new jobs and the extension of their Covid-19 vaccination contract to ensure the UK has access to fill and finish capacity for vaccines in 2022.
Truss said: “India is the world’s biggest democracy and a nation that shares our belief in free enterprise. Deeper trading ties will create opportunities for UK businesses that were simply not there as part of the EU, and set the stage for a much closer partnership with one of the economic powerhouses of the present and future.
“We will be collaborating much more closely in the industries of tomorrow like science, tech and green growth, so we can build back better and deliver an export-led, investment-led, jobs-led recovery from coronavirus.”
The two sides also finalised a joint statement, which sets out the objectives and scope of the new ETP.
“Taking forward their commitment from the 14th JETCO [Joint Economic and Trade Committee] on 24th July 2020, India and UK Trade Ministers reviewed the ongoing engagements between the two sides for an ETP, as part of the development of a roadmap that would lead to a potential comprehensive FTA, including considerations on an Interim Agreement on preferential basis,” notes the joint statement issued this week.
“In a significant step forward, the Ministers agreed that this partnership would formally be launched during the visit of the UK Prime Minister to India, later this year. To this effect, the Ministers committed themselves to make concrete progress on trade and investment front to deliver quick gains for both countries including joint timelines for further advances,” it reads.
It is expected that an ETP would pave the way for a full-fledged free trade agreement (FTA) over time. The joint statement notes that discussions were carried out on the “entire range” of bilateral trade and economic relations in a spirit of mutual understanding of each other’s priorities and trade sensitivities. The ministers also reviewed progress in removing market access barriers on both sides and ongoing cooperation in response to Covid-19.
“The ministers agreed to further accelerate the process towards launch of the ETP, and committed to interact on a regular basis, while identifying quick and concrete bilateral deliverables that could cement the ETP and immediately benefit the people of both countries,” the statement adds.
Additionally, there is a commitment on both sides to “relaunch” the UK-India CEO Forum, with a meeting of such a forum to take place at the earliest. It is part of efforts on both sides to improve the business environment and collectively address the challenges to post Covid-19 economic recovery, alongside the private sector.
In relation to the pandemic response, the ministers welcomed the strong bilateral health cooperation between India and the UK, including on vaccines, which is said to be enabling both countries to act as a “global force for good” during these challenging times.
The UK-India trade relationship, worth £23 billion in 2019, was lauded by the ministers as supporting key industries, such as technology and life sciences, and around half a million jobs in each other’s economies.