Minister warned not to rush UK-India FTA

Professional and trade organisations in the UK are urging the government not to rush into a free trade agreement with India, saying the deal is far too important to hurry.

uk india trade deal on hold
Launching negotiations early this year, outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson set a deadline of October 24 - the start of the Diwali festival - for the completion of an FTA.

A month ago, India's Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal told the Financial Times that negotiations over a deal - regarded as the UK's most ambitious since leaving the European Union - were on track to be concluded by the autumn.

However, many trade and professional groups fear that attempts to meet the deadline might concentrate solely on goods at the expense of such sectors as tech, pharmaceuticals, and financial and legal services.

Now, in a letter to International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, ten organisations - including the Law Society, the City of London Corporation and techUK - have issued the government a blunt warning over attempts to hurry the deal, which they describe as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity".

The letter urges the government "to hold out for a commercially meaningful and comprehensive deal, even if doing so means that the self-imposed deadline of Diwali is not met".

It continues: "Negotiating until a balanced outcome is achieved, even if that means continuing past October, is entirely consistent with the government’s manifesto commitments."

The organisations say a deal with India offered the opportunity to strengthen the already close economic ties between the two countries and to set a new international standard for trade agreements.

"It is the content of the deal that matters for UK businesses, not speed of negotiation," the letter adds. "We appreciate the efforts of negotiators on both sides, who are working tirelessly, but substance needs to come before any deadline."

Mark Fenhalls QC, chair of the Bar Council - one of the letter's signatories - said it was important to get the details right in any agreement.

“Legal services are an economic powerhouse and already contribute £60 billion a year to the UK economy. Our sector must be given the attention it deserves as part of these negotiations, even if that means going beyond the current deadline,” he said.

Jana Psarska, international trade policy manager at techUK, pointed out that the fifth round of talks had been successfully concluded earlier this month but said she was concerned about the apparent race to conclude the deal by Diwali.

"The October deadline raises concerns over how ambitious an FTA with India we can achieve, and whether quality will not be comprised over speed of negotiations," she said.

"The UK–India trade deal would be amongst the most important for the tech sector since Brexit. That’s why it’s so important that the outcome is as ambitious as possible and delivers on the government’s commitment for the UK to be a leader in digital trade.

"We also believe this is once in-a-lifetime opportunity to deepen the bilateral tech partnership, advance an ambitious trade agenda and negotiate a comprehensive digital trade chapter in the UK-India FTA."

Signatories to the letter are: the Bar Council, Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Chemical Industries Association, City of London Corporation, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, Law Society of England and Wales, Make UK, Professional and Business Services Council, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, techUK, and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.
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