THE prime minister, Rishi Sunak, could face some transparency questions related to wife Akshata Murty’s Infosys shares, which are worth an estimated £500 million, in a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with India, according to a media report.
The Observer last Sunday (27) claimed that Labour and trade experts were questioning the full financial impact as Infosys – the Bengaluru headquartered software service major co-founded by Akshata’s father Narayana Murthy – stands to benefit from any such trade deal.
India and the UK have been negotiating an FTA, now in its 12th round of negotiations. “As the prime minister recently learned, it’s important he declares any interests properly. I expect him to do so in respect of the India trade deal too,” said Darren Jones, Labour MP and chair of the cross-party Commons business and trade select committee – which has been scrutinising the FTA talks.
According to the Observer, Infosys wants to improve access to the UK for its thousands of contract workers through changes to the visa regime. Allowing more visas for its workers in sectors such as IT and artificial intelligence (AI) is claimed to be a “key Indian demand in the talks”.
The newspaper claimed that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) warned the business and trade select committee against conducting a trip to India in the coming months to examine issues around a potential deal. “The committee was advised by the government it would be better to visit India next year instead of during sensitive trade negotiations,” Jones was quoted as saying..
The shadow trade secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said while Labour backed a trade deal with India, it is important that Sunak is “transparent about any relevant business links and his personal role in negotiations”.
Alan Manning, a professor of economics at the London School of Economics, told the Observer that because software services are one of India’s biggest export sectors, the country will naturally be looking for opportunities to grow them in trade deals.
“As the prime minister’s family may have a direct financial interest in any deal on immigration, he should recuse himself from this part of the negotiations to avoid any perception of conflict of interest,” said Manning. Separately, the Sunday Times said India was prepared to cut tariffs on Scotch whisky and British cars and parts by at least a third if the UK is prepared to slash its workers’ tax to clinch an FTA.
According to reports, New Delhi is pushing London to sign a social security agreement similar to deals it has with countries such as Canada, Australia and France, that could exempt Indian workers from social security contributions if they continue to make payments in India.
The reports come as business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch held talks with her counterpart, Piyush Goyal, in India during a visit for a G20 trade meet last week.