India-UK FTA tops commerce ministry’s 100-day agenda

Both sides are increasing their engagement by holding more meetings of sub-committees.
Both sides are increasing their engagement by holding more meetings of sub-committees.


  • To expedite the FTA with the UK, the commerce ministry has sent its top negotiator to London

New Delhi: The Union commerce ministry has placed the finalization of the India-United Kingdom (UK) free trade agreement at the top of its 100-day agenda after a new government takes charge following the Lok Sabha elections, two persons aware of the development said.

Besides, the ministry aims to conclude most of the chapters of trade pacts with Sri Lanka, Peru, South Korea, ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA), as well as comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) with Australia as part of its 100-day plan that is being prepared, the persons cited above said.

“The agenda is getting prepared and the process to finalize 100-day plan is underway," the first person said.

Different ministries will submit their respective 100-day plan to a group of ministers, likely to be set by this month-end, which will finalize the new government's 100-day agenda.

To expedite the FTA with the UK, the commerce ministry has sent its top negotiator to London, with the task of resolving all the contentious chapters and sealing the deal within 100 days of the formation of the new government at the Centre.

The talks with the UK are in the final stages.

“Chapter-wise textual negotiations with the UK are nearly closed and schedules on goods and services are at an advanced stage of negotiations," the second person said.

“A high-ranking team from the UK recently visited New Delhi for negotiations, and progress has been made on resolving most of the remaining issues. Efforts are underway to address a couple of key priority issues to ensure a balanced outcome and seal the deal," the person cited above said.

Queries emailed to the commerce secretary, and spokespersons of the Union commerce ministry remained unanswered until press time.

A British High Commission spokesperson said: “The UK and India continue to work towards an ambitious trade deal that works for both countries. While we do not comment on the details of 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."

“The talks between India and Australia to expand the scope of existing economic cooperation and trade agreement (ECTA) for a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) are also progressing at a healthy rate," the second person cited above said.

“In the last four years, India has signed FTAs with Mauritius, the UAE, Australia, and the EFTA countries (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein) in fast-track mode. The FTAs with the UK and Oman are almost ready and may be signed soon after the formation of the new government post elections," said Ajay Srivastava, the founder of Global Trade Research Initiative (GTRI), a think tank.

Set up in 1960, EFTA stands for European Free Trade Association, and is an intergovernmental organization of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland that seeks to promote free trade among its members.

“India's FTA partners warmly reciprocate the fast-track negotiation strategy, as the FTA with India allows access to a large and growing market bypassing high tariff walls," Srivastava said.

“Successfully concluding FTAs with developed countries would send a positive signal to the world, showcasing India's commitment to trade liberalization and economic integration at a time the whole world is turning protectionist," he added.

However, the GTRI chief asked the government to issue a white paper on the performance of FTAs.

“This will tell us if the FTAs have become pivotal instruments for India's economic expansion and integration into the world market or if we are merely giving away market access to partner countries," he said.

In response to an emailed query, an Australian High Commission spokesperson said: “Concluding an ambitious comprehensive economic cCooperation agreement (CECA) with India is a top priority for Australia. We are working with India to do this as quickly as possible, in line with a commitment from our prime ministers."

“The CECA will help realize the enormous potential in our complementary economies and build on the early success of our initial Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement," the spokesperson added.

In the trade agreement negotiations with Peru, the seventh round of talks is currently on. Both sides anticipate resolving major outstanding issues related to goods and services during this round.

India hosted the third round of joint committee meetings for the trade agreement negotiations with ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement, commonly known as ATIGA. The negotiations for the review of ATIGA were held during 16-19 February.

Both sides are increasing their engagement by holding more meetings of sub-committees.

Additionally, they are examining non-tariff barriers parallel to the negotiations. The fourth round of dialogues for the ATIGA is scheduled for 7-9 May in Kuala Lumpur. Also, both sides have set a target to conclude the ATIGA dialogues by early 2025.

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