Chancellor Rishi Sunak has lauded the substantial headway achieved in the direction of a free trade agreement with India as he readies for a crucial meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Progress without Imposed Deadlines
Prime Minister Sunak confirmed his intention to discuss the ongoing trade negotiations during his encounter with Mr. Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi, scheduled for this Saturday. However, he emphasized that setting artificial deadlines for the deal’s conclusion would not be conducive, as it could jeopardize the UK’s negotiating stance.
Departure from Past Approaches
Mr. Sunak’s approach differs from that of his predecessors, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, who had aimed to finalize a pact with India by October 2022, coinciding with the Hindu festival of Diwali. While acknowledging significant progress, Sunak emphasized the necessity for further effort, reiterating that trade deals require time to benefit both nations.
Mutual Aspirations for a Comprehensive Trade Agreement
Speaking to Asian News International (ANI) before his bilateral meeting with PM Modi, Sunak expressed the shared enthusiasm for a comprehensive and ambitious trade deal between the UK and India. He noted, “We agree that there is a lot that needs to be done. However, trade agreements always take time. They must perform for both nations. And even though we’ve come a long way, there is still a long way to go.”
A Shift in Tone
Notably, these remarks conveyed a more optimistic tone than Sunak’s earlier statement to the UK press, where he had cautioned that a free trade agreement with India was not guaranteed.
Complex Hurdles Remain
The trade agreement’s progress faces challenges, including disputes over the number of visas for Indian workers in the UK and discrepancies regarding access for British car manufacturers to India’s vast market of 1.4 billion consumers.
Divergent Stances on the Ukraine Conflict
A significant divergence between London and New Delhi has been their respective positions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While Mr. Sunak has criticized Russia’s actions, India has maintained diplomatic relations with Russia since the invasion in February 2022. Sunak indicated he would not pressure Mr. Modi to alter his stance but highlighted their shared values regarding international rule of law, the UN charter, and territorial integrity.
G20 Summit and India’s Spotlight
The G20 summit, hosted at Bharat Mandapam, prominently features Prime Minister Modi, with his image displayed across New Delhi to promote the event. International leaders, including US President Joe Biden, are attending. However, strict lockdown measures surrounding the summit venue have hindered travel within the Indian capital, with limited press access.
Bilateral Meetings on the Horizon
On the summit’s fringes, Chancellor Sunak will hold separate meetings with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mauritian leader Pravind Jugnauth. In the evening, he and his wife, Akshata Murty, will join a dinner hosted by Mr. Modi. Akshata Murty is the daughter of NR Narayana Murty, co-founder of Indian IT giant Infosys.
Strengthening UK-Singapore Ties
Ahead of the Singapore bilateral meeting, Downing Street announced a new strategic partnership with the Asian Commonwealth nation. This partnership encompasses enhanced shared security and the utilization of UK and Singapore’s expertise in technologies like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence to create job opportunities in both countries.
A Step Towards Global Economic Cooperation
Chancellor Sunak stated, “By entering into this new agreement with Singapore, we will be able to further the delivery of our priorities and guarantee that we are working closely with our closest allies as we chart the course of the global economy.”