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‘Despite Brexit uncertainty, it’s business as usual’

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 08, 2018 Published on October 26, 2017

Bilateral trade agreement is immaterial, British minister assures Indian businesses

Indian businesses with investments in Britain will see that it is business as usual, Britain’s Minister for Asia has said, seeking to offer reassurances to investors and others looking to the UK market amid the uncertainty of Brexit.

Mark Field, Minister for Asia and the Pacific at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, also urged businesses not to focus too much on the state of a Britain-India trade deal, which is dependent on Britain’s ability to secure a deal with Europe, arguing that trade with Britain’s partnerships had continued with and without trade deals.

“The strategic partnership has never been stronger,” he said on Britain’s relationship with India, arguing that despite the lack of references to its partnership with India in the Conservative Party election manifesto of June, the party and government remain committed as ever to pushing forward the relationship, just as Prime Minister Theresa May’s predecessor David Cameron had done.

Staying positive

Field, who was a ‘Remain’ campaigner in last year’s referendum, said of Brexit: “We need to make this work and we can only do so by being positive and having a buccaneering approach…of course there will be a cloud of uncertainty in the next couple of years.”

However, two or three years of transition is nothing in the grand scheme of things, he observed. “We will get through this,’ he added.

“The message I hope to send to Indians in the UK market is that it’s business as usual.”

Some prospective investors might delay decisions given the uncertainties, he admitted, expressing hope that they will be able to commit investments at the earliest possible opportunity.

It is yet to be ascertained when talks on a free trade agreement with India could begin, as this would be dependent on the terms of the transition deal reached with the EU, said Field.

May has spoken of a two-year transition deal after 2019 to smooth Britain’s exit: if the transition deal did include a form of single market membership then trade deals with countries such as India could only be formally negotiated after this period.

The British government welcomes the changes being brought in by the Indian government, Field said, though “British business people who had tried to make it work in India have been frustrated by the pace of change”.

As India continues its reform agenda, Britain could play more of a role, he added. “I would like to see a stronger economic connection but it’s simplistic to say it’s been a disappointment.”

Asked about student visas — an issue repeatedly brought up in the context of the British-India relationship — he said his impression of universities is that they still feel able to attract the “brightest and the best coming out of India,” and that his government has listened to some of the concerns of students and introduced some reforms.

On the issue of Britain’s stance on India’s role in the new US Afghan policy, he said it is “not entirely clear” what the role for India may or may not be, but that it is important that there is a dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan that wasn’t there before. “I also understand the deep sensitivities on the Pakistani side…the notion of India having a role in Afghanistan which they’d regard as being a red line.”

“I do think it’s important that Afghanistan and Pakistan are able to begin to come to some arrangement…my instinct is that this would be better on a bilateral basis — other countries involving themselves in this issue or being seen to interfere may undermine the idea of being able to come together to a longer-term arrangement,” said Field.

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Published on October 26, 2017
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