• Tuesday, April 16, 2024


India-UK trade talks will conclude quickly: West Midlands mayor

West Midlands mayor Andy Street. (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Chandrashekar Bhat

THE NEGOTIATIONS between India and the UK to strike a free trade agreement (FTA) will conclude quickly due to an “absolute agreement” at the senior political level, England’s West Midlands mayor has said.

Andy Street, who is in charge of the West Midlands Combined Authority that covers some of England’s major industrial hubs of Birmingham and Coventry, expects the region to benefit from an FTA.

Britain’s department for international trade confirmed on Thursday (20) that the FTA talks began virtually on Monday (17) and the first round is expected to last two weeks.

Last week, the UK’s international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan met Indian commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal in New Delhi to formally flag off the negotiations.

While their joint statement set an end-of-the-year timeline for the conclusion of negotiations, there is speculation that such discussions are likely to drag on a lot further.

“These things tend to be rather longer than one would wish,” Andy Street said.

“But I think there’s a critical ingredient here: there seems to me to be absolute agreement at the senior political level that this has got to happen as quickly as possible… So, I think this will go very, very quickly,” he said.

The West Midlands is known as the UK’s automotive capital, which is home to the country’s largest car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover (JLR).

Street believes the trade talks with India hold out tariff-free promises for the region.

He said: “The big picture is that within the overall UK-India relationship, there’s a real opportunity for the West Midlands to build a strong trading relationship. We’ve already got a very good relationship because our single biggest company, Jaguar Land Rover, is owned by Tata.

“So, there’s an incredible Indian investment here and what we believe is that there’ll be many, many more opportunities particularly in sectors where we are very strong.”

With its automotive cluster, 50 per cent of the research and development (R&D) for the sector is done in and around Birmingham.

“This is the region that will gain most. We’ve seen JLR turning to electric and also electric taxis being built, there are electric motorcycles. So, this sector is becoming really, really strong here. Of course, the absence of tariffs with India will enable us to really work with the innovators,” the mayor said.

According to official statistics, the West Midlands is second after London and the southeast of England in terms of inward investments from India. Besides JLR, some of the other Indian companies located in the region include software services major Infosys and TVS Motors, which recently acquired Birmingham-based Norton Motorcycles.

“We are very confident that we have got the strength that we can build on the back of that FTA. But it doesn’t stop businesses from developing before an FTA is done. We’ve got big aspirations at the moment with a number of Indian companies, Infosys being one, where we are expecting to do an investment deal well before we move to the formality of the FTA,” said Street.

As the force behind the creation of the West Midlands India Partnership (WMIP) last year to build on the strong Indian diaspora base of the region, the businessman-turned-politician flagged trade, tourism, business and academia as the areas with “huge opportunities to do more”.

With his focus on the Commonwealth Games, scheduled for July-August in Birmingham, the mayor expressed his excitement at playing host as a “good part of the world” comes together.

The baton for the 2022 Games was in New Delhi to coincide with Trevelyan’s visit to flag off the FTA talks.

“You think of 2022, for the West Midlands the high point will be the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games on July 28. I would extend an invitation to India because it will very much tell the story of a part of the world that is very proud of its links with India and other Commonwealth countries,” said Street

“We are looking forward to about a million visitors and about a billion people observing this on television, the biggest audience being in India. This is a perfect way to showcase to Indians, who understand the UK very well given the strength of the diaspora, how a region not always in the limelight has developed and what it offers. I hope it encourages more leisure visits and also business visits in the future,” he said.


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