India, Britain launching talks on free trade deal

NEW DELHI (AP) — India and Britain are launching talks on pursuing a free trade deal that is expected to boost bilateral trade by billions of dollars in one of the most ambitious negotiations to take place after Brexit.

Britain’s International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan is in New Delhi and will meet with Piyush Goyal, India’s minister of Commerce & Industry, Consumer Affairs & Food & Public Distribution and Textiles. Actual negotiations kick off next week, officials said.

Both sides hope the deal will spark huge benefits for several industries, from food and drink to cutting-edge renewable technology.

The deal could potentially double UK exports to India and boost two-way trade by $38 billion a year by 2035, a British government statement said.

“A deal with India is a golden opportunity to put UK businesses at the front of the queue as the Indian economy continues to grow rapidly,” Trevalyan said, adding that Britain was keen to tap into the growing middle class in Asia’s third-largest economy.

Her visit signals efforts from Britain, after leaving the European Union in 2016, to focus its trade policies in the Indo-Pacific region. India, once a British colony, is viewed as a favorable location given uncertainties over ties with China.

Investment from Indian companies already supports 95,000 jobs across the UK, the statement said.

Britain is angling for a deal that slashes barriers to doing business and trading, including cutting tariffs on exports of British-made cars and Scotch whisky.

In an interview with the Financial Times newspaper on Thursday, Trevelyan said “everything is on the table to discuss”, including broadening visa access for Indian students and skilled workers. She said she would like for a deal to be clinched by early 2023.

According to India’s External Affairs Ministry, India and Britain are focusing on five key areas, people-to-people contacts, trade, defense and security, climate action and health.

India and Britain have extensive links, with the former investing in 120 projects to become the second-largest source of foreign direct investments after the United States in 2019. Trade between the two countries was $15.45 billion in 2019-20.