UK PM likely to visit India on April 26, sign pacts on non-tariff barriers, services

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on April 01, 2021

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson   -  REUTERS

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is likely to visit India on April 26 and efforts are on in both countries to finalise possible agreements to facilitate trade and investments that could be signed during the visit, sources close to the development have said.

“The UK Prime Minister’s visit is more or less finalised for April 26 and the on-going vaccination drive in both countries has minimised the chances of a further delay due to the pandemic. Hopefully, there will not be another re-scheduling,” an official tracking the matter told BusinessLine.

The pacts that are being worked out by officials in the two countries include ones on reducing non-tariff barriers and boosting services, the official said.

Johnson was supposed to visit India in January as the chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations but the visit had to be put off because of the out-break of the new strain of Covid-19 virus in the UK.

The British PM is also expected to personally extend to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi the invitation to join the G-7 summit scheduled in Cornwall in June.

Although India is keen on an early free trade agreement with the UK, and has been pushing for a mini-deal, it is unlikely that a limited trade deal will be on the PM’s agenda although he may refer to it.

“A trade deal, even if it is limited in scope and ambition, needs to be negotiated. There is no time for trade negotiations to happen before the UK PM’s visit. Johnson can, at most, convey his country’s willingness to work on a bilateral trade deal in the future and at most some preparatory steps may be announced,” another source said.

The UK is India’s fourteenth largest trading partner accounting for $8.7 billion of exports and $6.7 billion of imports in 2020-21.

Both India and the UK have acknowledged that an FTA would now be smoother since Britain has exited the EU and the sensitivities of other members will not have to be taken into consideration.

Interim pact proposed

In February, Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, in an in-person meeting with UK Secretary of State for International Trade Elizabeth Truss, proposed an interim pact on a preferential basis based where both sides would reduce or eliminate tariffs on select items.

While no decision was taken on the proposed trade pact at the meet, both launched an ‘enhanced trade partnership’ which might be taken forward during the PM’’s visit.

As addressing non-tariff barriers is high on the UK’s list of priorities, an agreement may well be signed when Johnson visits.

“Both sides may identify non-tariff barriers that they face in carrying out trade, like stringent quality standards, and attempts may be made to ease these,” the source said.

Services is another area where there may be some arrangements during the visit as both India and the UK are interested in giving the sector a boost, the source said.

Published on April 01, 2021

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