London | Ahead of the 12th round of the India-UK free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations starting in New Delhi on Wednesday, the Indian High Commissioner to the UK has expressed optimism that officials on both sides will be “able to get something working” and find a “right fit” towards a mutually beneficial pact.
High Commissioner Vikram Doraiswami told PTI that he is positive as both countries seem keen to make necessary adjustments, recognising the complexities involved with the very different structures of the two similar-sized economies.
On the wider bilateral partnership, he expressed similar optimism around an "obvious synergy" across different sectors.
“I'm positive about it (FTA)… My intention is that to the extent we can, we would like a mutually beneficial forward-looking FTA to be concluded,” said the High Commissioner.
“I believe both sides are keen on making the necessary adjustments. Even though we're both similar-sized economies, we are dissimilar in the structures of our economies and the complexities of our economies. So, getting the right fit together is very important,” he said.
The senior diplomat closely involved with the FTA negotiations, which began in January last year, noted that it is important that the UK side recognises some of the complexities of the structure of the Indian economy.
“It can't be the same as a free trade agreement with a peer-developed country. On the other hand, we too have to take into account the fact that the UK hasn't actually negotiated many free trade agreements in recent years when it was part of the European Union. So, there are those things that have to be adjusted. But overall, the trend line seems very positive,” he said.
The 11th round of negotiations concluded on July 18, with a joint outcome statement saying it covered detailed draft treaty text discussions across nine policy areas. According to official UK government statistics, the bilateral trade partnership was worth around GBP 36 billion in 2022 and an FTA is set to significantly enhance that relationship.
Commerce Secretary Sunil Barthwal said the 11th round of talks in London was "very intense" and many issues got closed.
Out of the total 26 chapters in the proposed FTA, 19 have been closed. Investment is being negotiated as a separate agreement (bilateral investment treaty) between India and the UK.
"Now, there are only a few issues left. The UK team is coming to India during the Trade and Investment Working Group (TIWG) meeting (in Jaipur) and we are hoping that we would be closing those remaining issues.
"So, our target is that we close the issues with the UK when the UK team visits us in India and we are very hopeful that the issues will be sorted out," Barthwal told reporters in New Delhi on Monday.
“I think our government has been very clear that we want the best possible partnership with the UK and, I believe, from what I hear from the UK leadership on both sides of the political aisle as well as from the senior leadership of the government here, that they too want a forward-looking partnership with us,” said Doraiswami.
Noting that India-UK history is a complex one, he stressed the importance of the bilateral partnership after 76 years of Independence from colonial rule to be informed by what happened in the past but not allow “ourselves to become prisoners of it”.
“It's important that we build a relationship that touches upon our respective strengths. London is still one of the world's great capitals of finance, for instance. India is the future direction of global growth. There is an obvious synergy between the need for high-quality, well-priced finance for our infrastructure rollout, for our green transitions. And, there is obviously a need for quality finance to find the best possible rewards in terms of places to go to invest. Both of these obviously speak for themselves,” he said.
Asked about the recent visit to India of UK Security Minister Tom Tugendhat, who announced a GBP 95,000 fund to tackle Pro-Khalistan Extremism in the wake of an attack on the High Commission in London in March, the High Commissioner said it marked a milestone moment in enhancing the security pillar of the bilateral partnership.
“We live in an uncertain and often challenging world, increasingly so… It makes absolute sense for countries like the UK and India to work much more closely together to recognise that there are more complex challenges than the simple ones that people talk about. It's not just nation-states alone. There are challenges in terms of what is happening among communities, how communities are being radicalised, how it is changing the shape of domestic politics,” he said.
“In all of this, it is important for countries like the UK to work with us because we too have an understanding of how some of this happens. So, the visit of Security Minister Tugendhat last week is a very important milestone and I think he would have come back with a strong sense of how keen we are to make a proper, viable functioning security pillar part of our partnership,” he added.
On the business aspect of the relationship, the envoy pointed to how Indian businesses have built a huge presence in the UK market and stressed that “it is really now time that we got more British businesses into India as well”.