India-UK trade pact talks in final stages: Commerce Secy

Negotiations between India and UK for a free trade agreement are at an advanced stage and both sides are working on ironing out differences that still remain, Commerce Secretary Sunil Barthwal said Friday. “We are negotiating tough issues which remain,” he said while not elaborating on the issues.

The secretary said he was in the UK last week for discussions with his counterparts and this week a delegation of negotiators from the UK are in New Delhi for the continuing with the 13th round of talks which began on 18th of last month.

The proposed FTA between the two countries, negotiations for which were started in January of 2022 covers 26 chapters of policy areas. “Majority of chapters are closed or are in advanced stages of negotiations.”

FE has reported the possibility of the agreement being signed by the end of this month.

While less contentious issues have been sorted out, protracted negotiations are still on issues of interest to India like greater access for its skilled professionals from sectors like IT, and healthcare in the UK market, besides market access for several goods at nil customs duties.
On the other hand, the UK is seeking a significant cut in import duties on goods such as scotch whiskey, automobiles, lamb meat, chocolates and certain confectionary items.

Britain is also looking for more opportunities for UK services in Indian markets in segments like telecommunications, legal and financial services (banking and insurance).
If the negotiations conclude successfully, the FTA would be India’s first with a developed country which could set a template for other similar pacts it is seeking like with the EU.

Another team from the UK is also in India to negotiate the Bilateral Investment Treaty with officials of the Ministry of Finance that will be signed along with the FTA.

The UK is an important trade and investment partner for India. The bilateral trade between India and the UK increased to $ 20.36 billion in 2022-23 from $17.5 billion in 2021-22.

On FTA negotiations with the European Union, the secretary said that the sixth round of negotiations would be held in Brussels from Monday. During the fifth round of negotiations in June, negotiations on 20 policy areas were held.