Britain and India formally start trade talks

LONDON: Britain and India will formally launch free trade agreements in New Delhi on Thursday (Jan. 13), striving for freer movement of goods and people with a deal expected to boost bilateral trade by billions of pounds.

Britain has made a deal with India one of its post-Brexit priorities as ministers, free from the European Union’s common trade policy, aim to align trade policy with faster-growing economies around the Indo-Pacific region.

Indian trade minister Piyush Goyal and his British counterpart Anne-Marie Trevelyan will meet in New Delhi on Thursday, with the first round of negotiations starting next week.

“A deal with India is a golden opportunity to put British companies at the forefront as the Indian economy continues to grow rapidly,” Trevelyan said in a statement.

Britain said the deal could nearly double British exports to India and increase total trade by £28 billion (US$38.3 billion) a year by 2035. Total trade in 2019 was worth £23 billion, according to UK statistics.

Ministers want to capitalize on the wealth of the Indian middle class and their appetite for premium British products such as Scotch Whisky. They also hope that India can become a major customer of its green technology industry and that the existing trade routes in the services sector can be strengthened.

India and the former colonial power Britain already share strong trade ties, and more than a million people of Indian descent live in Britain after decades of migration.

India aims to provide greater opportunities for Indians to live and work in Britain, and any trade deal could depend on easing rules and lowering fees for Indian students and professionals going to Britain.

Lower-rate access to Indian markets in exchange for freer movement is expected to be a key dynamic in the negotiations and will test Britain’s bargaining power, with any concessions on immigration likely to face domestic opposition.

The two sides have already negotiated a strengthened trade partnership, announced last year, and may opt to sign a limited-scope temporary free trade agreement while broader negotiations continue.

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