During a recent visit to the UK, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla declared that the 10-year roadmap to a potential free trade agreement (FTA) with Britain is progressing well.
The roadmap is designed to accelerate talks on a free trade agreement (FTA), factoring in the scope of an interim agreement ahead of that, and the high-level visit was intended to take stock on the progress towards that goal. It comes as a precursor to a proposed visit by Boris Johnson to India in September, to make up for the twice cancelled tour in January and then April amid the Covid-19 pandemic surges in both countries.
Shringla said: “There are several aspects to it – the trade and investment aspect, where the Enhanced Trade Partnership envisages accelerated talks that can lead up to a comprehensive FTA. The possibility of an interim agreement is also factored into that.
“Both sides agree those talks are going well. We will see some good progress in that regard.”
During his visit last week, the Indian Foreign Secretary held meetings with Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Philip Barton, FCDO Minister for South Asia Lord Tariq Ahmad as well as David Quarrey, the UK Prime Minister’s International Affairs Adviser and Deputy National Security Adviser at 10 Downing Street.
“We have also encouraged the UK to seek opportunities to invest in India, particularly in areas like infrastructure development using the productivity linked PLI Scheme as effectively as possible,” he noted.
“We have also liberalised sections of the economy, including the insurance sector, asking that those areas also be a focus of their investments. There is also scope for investments through Mutual and Pension Funds for institutional investors. The UK after all is the financial capital of the world and there is a lot of scope for investments in the financial sector through institutional investors.”
India is set to take on the presidency of the United Nations Security Council next month, for which Shringla shared an “ambitious agenda”.
“There are three major events we plan, one is in the area of maritime security at the summit level; the second would be on Peacekeeping where we would introduce a new Peacekeeping app called Unite Aware, which will provide UN peacekeepers greater safety, security and awareness in the area in which they operate, thereby increasing their efficiency; and the third will be on counter-terrorism, where the UK and India both have common interests,” he highlighted.
Watch this interview with India foreign minister Dr. S Jaishankar and Former UK PM, Tony Blair as they discuss the relevance of the United Nations at the India Global Forum.
“There was also a discussion on how the UK is supportive of our efforts to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council and how it can help us in the UN process, in particular the inter-governmental negotiations that we believe should be based on a text-based process.”
The Indian Foreign Secretary flagged a growing convergence between India and the UK when it comes to the Indo-Pacific, a region in particular focus since a foreign policy review by Britain earlier this year.
“The UK has come a long way on this. It is an important aspect of our cooperation in different levels of bilateral cooperation, particularly with regard maritime security and cooperation.
“In our discussions, Indo-Pacific was something that came up often. We were also informed that certain terminology had changed from Asia-Pacific to Indo-Pacific on the UK side. So, there is a strong commitment there; there is clarity on the UK side that a free, open, transparent Indo-Pacific is something that both our countries are committed to trying to achieve.”
The tie-up between both sides in the field of healthcare remains at the heart of the bilateral engagement against the backdrop of the pandemic, with a major health summit planned for when Johnson visits India.
Shringla used his visit as an opportunity to extend India’s gratitude for all the support extended by the UK during the country’s devastating second wave earlier in the year.
“One of the first flights that came in was from the UK. It was a great morale booster,” he reflected.
On the vaccine collaboration front, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine being manufactured under a transfer of technology agreement in India, as Covishield by Serum Institute of India (SII), is soon expected to pave the way for an international vaccine certification process.