UK, India Put FTA Talks On Ice

The next round of formal trade talks can commence only after the Lok Sabha polls have concluded.

The 14th round of the free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations between India and the UK has now closed, with formal negotiations being put on hold as India heads into election campaign mode as the general election schedule is announced on Saturday.

According to UK officials familiar with the discussions, a lot of progress has been made but the teams are not in a position to conclude an agreement which led to the Round 14 closing on Friday.

The next round of formal trade talks can commence only after the Lok Sabha polls have concluded.

The India-UK FTA negotiations, which opened in January 2022, are aimed at securing an ambitious outcome for bilateral trade currently worth around GBP 38.1 billion a year as per official statistics from last month.

We anticipate that while some talks might happen between rounds, the next round of negotiations will take place after the Indian elections, official sources in the UK said.

Neither side is walking away from talks. It’s just that we don’t have what we need yet to finalise a deal that meets our joint ambition across goods, services and investment. We’re very proud of the track record we have and how far we’ve been able to come with this trade deal so far. Negotiators have worked really hard in the past few years and we’ve managed to get a lot of chapters closed, the sources said.

The development follows a phone call between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his UK counterpart, Rishi Sunak, earlier this week when both leaders reaffirmed their commitment towards securing a historic and comprehensive deal and reiterated the importance of reaching an ambitious outcome.

The UK and India are continuing to work towards an ambitious trade deal. Whilst we don’t comment on the details of live negotiations, we are clear that we will only sign a deal that is fair, balanced and ultimately in the best interests of the British people and the economy,” a UK Department of Business and Trade spokesperson said.

Last week, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal told that long-term benefits for the economy were the key in such FTA negotiations and that India was seeking a balanced, fair and equitable deal.

His UK counterpart, Secretary of State for Business and Trade Kemi Badenoch, said during a trade conference in London earlier that while a trade deal with India is possible before general elections in the country, Britain does not want to use that as a deadline.

The bigger the country, the more complex the trade agreement. And also, the more different the economy is, the harder it is to negotiate… India is still very protectionist, where we are very, very liberalised, Badenoch noted.

The UK wants India to significantly reduce tariffs on UK exports such as food, cars and whisky that can currently be as high as 150 per cent. India in turn is concerned about the fairness of rules applied to Indian workers temporarily transferred to the UK on business visas who have to pay national insurance, despite not being eligible for UK pensions or social security benefits.