By: Chandrashekar Bhat
BOTH India and the UK are showing “encouraging signs of appetite” for a free trade agreement (FTA), a senior industry expert said.
Syma Cullasy-Aldridge who is the chief campaigns director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has just returned after leading the group’s first-ever business delegation to New Delhi and Mumbai aimed at unlocking opportunities of a potential FTA.
She described the visit as “really brilliant” in highlighting the immense scope for partnership and collaboration across key sectors.
“What really struck me was the opportunity and appetite on both sides for collaboration and partnership around key sectors like green finance, innovation and new technology areas where there are skills and education on both sides,” said Cullasy-Aldridge.
“The seventh round (FTA negotiations) was on here (in London) while we were in India. It’s encouraging to see negotiations progressing and also encouraging to see appetite on both sides to make sure that we do agree (a trade deal) and then utilise it well,” she said.
The last round of talks concluded on February 10.
Cullasy-Aldridge highlighted a recent cabinet mini-shuffle by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak which brought the government’s trade and business departments together under secretary of state Kemi Badenoch.
“It means that you’re looking at trade from a business perspective, having business working hand in hand with trade. That is a good thing because then you have better outcomes,” she said.
“We have an opportunity (post-Brexit) to forge our own trading relationships. There’s a big global Britain ambition and India is the fastest-growing economy in the world. There’s an opportunity for the UK to partner with India on that growth story,” she added.
According to the CBI, an India-UK FTA could boost trade with India by £28 billion a year by 2035 and increase wages across the UK by £3bn.
Its trade delegation earlier this month was focussed on the utilisation aspect of such a potential pact by businesses.
Asked about hurdles that CBI foresees in the way of an FTA which has already missed a Diwali 2022 deadline for completion due to political upheavals in the UK, Cullasy-Aldridge said there would always be some hurdles in any trade negotiation, asserting they are “incredibly complicated legal documents”.
Official UK government data pegs India-UK bilateral trade at around £29.6bn a year, a figure expected to receive a major boost with an FTA both sides hope can be concluded this year.