BRITAIN and India are looking at a possible visit to New Delhi by prime minister Rishi Sunak soon, but it may depend on whether the two sides can resolve the remaining differences to firm up the free trade agreement (FTA), people familiar with the matter said on Monday (9).
Both two sides were exploring the possibility of having the visit around October 28, but nothing has been finalised yet, they said, suggesting the visit is linked to the finalisation of the FTA.
India and the UK are learned to have finalised around 24 of the 26 chapters in the FTA and are now looking at sealing it by bridging differences on certain contentious issues, including mobility of people and import duty concessions on certain items, they said.
Delhi and London are looking at the possibility of Sunak watching the India-England World Cup one-day international cricket match in Lucknow on October 29.
There is no certainty about the visit, the sources said, adding any visit is contingent on finalising the free trade deal.
Sunak visited India in September to attend the G20 Summit and held talks with prime minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the meeting.
During the talks, Modi and Sunak reviewed the progress of the FTA negotiations and expressed hope that the remaining issues could be addressed at the earliest so that a “balanced, mutually beneficial and forward-looking” trade deal is concluded soon.
In April last year, when Boris Johnson was the prime minister, the two sides set a Diwali deadline for concluding the FTA, but the deal could not be finalised in view of differences over certain issues as well as political developments in the UK.
The India-UK relationship was elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership during the India-UK virtual summit held between Modi and his then British counterpart, Boris Johnson, in May 2021.
At the summit, the two sides adopted a 10-year roadmap to expand ties in the key areas of trade and economy, defence and security, climate change and people-to-people connections, among others.
Ahead of the G20 Summit, Sunak said there was “still some way to go” for the FTA with India, but appeared confident the final outcome will be a “forward-looking” and “modern” deal that would benefit both sides and facilitate the shared ambition of doubling trade by 2030.
He also said the trade deal could help Indian exporters gain access to the British market, including India’s 48 million small and medium enterprises.
“A modern, forward-looking free trade agreement can put us firmly on the path to our shared ambition of doubling UK-India trade by 2030,” Sunak said.
“It is very exciting to have this opportunity to expand our trade relationship, and to be the first European country that India has negotiated a free trade deal with,” he had said last month.