Next round of UK-India trade talks in April amid Ukraine tensions
THE THIRD round of the ongoing India-UK free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations will be hosted by India next month, Britain’s Department for International Trade (DIT) said on Thursday (24).
A joint “outcome statement” released by the DIT confirmed that a draft treaty text of chapters that will make up the new trade pact was discussed during round two of the negotiations, which concluded in London last Friday (19).
A delegation of Indian officials was in London for the technical talks, conducted in a “hybrid fashion”, with some negotiators at a dedicated UK negotiations facility and others attending virtually.
“For this round of negotiations, draft treaty text was shared and discussed across most chapters that will make up the agreement,” the statement said.
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“Technical experts from both sides came together for discussions in 64 separate sessions covering 26 policy areas. The third round of negotiations is due to be hosted by India in April 2022,” it added.
The FTA negotiations, launched in January with an end of the year timeline towards a possible interim agreement, have recently been overshadowed by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and India’s abstentions during United Nations votes condemning Russian president Vladimir Putin’s actions in the region.
It also emerged on Thursday (24) that a cross-party parliamentary delegation planned from the UK to India against the backdrop of the ongoing FTA negotiations was called off at the last minute due to wider political considerations as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The planned visit was to be led by the House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, over the parliamentary recess period in the UK for Easter next month.
“The Speaker had been looking forward to travelling with a strong, cross-party delegation of MPs from the House of Commons. Regrettably, it has not been possible for that visit to go ahead as planned,” said a spokesperson for the Speaker’s Office, without going into the reasons behind the cancellation.
The Indian High Commission in London declined to comment on the visit, which was scheduled for New Delhi and areas in Rajasthan.
India’s long-standing strategic alliance with Russia, one of its key defence partners, has come into sharp focus in recent weeks as the West mounts stringent economic sanctions on Putin’s regime over the conflict in Ukraine.
“The cancellation of the UK parliamentary visit to India appears to indicate the beginning of a trust deficit between two comprehensive strategic partners India and the UK over the Ukraine war,” said Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, senior fellow for south Asia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London.
“However, both countries need to better understand each other’s position. India underestimates the existential threat to the European security order that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine represents to the UK as well as the ideological divide between democracies and autocracies. The UK underestimates India’s dependence on Russian arms and spares, even though Russian supplies to India will be disrupted,” he said.
According to the strategic expert, unless India is “quickly” offered alternative defence supply chains, its dependence on Russia will continue. Therefore, compromises will be needed on both sides to meet the aims of Roadmap 2030 for enhanced ties, agreed between British prime minister Boris Johnson and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi last year.
“This could include the UK looking for, along with the G7 countries, practical and credible alternatives to India’s arms dilemma,” Roy-Chaudhury added.
Such a way forward was recently highlighted by UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
“I think the issue for India is there is some level of dependence on Russia, both in terms of its defence relationships but also in terms of its economic relationships. And I think the way forward is for a closer economic and defence relationship with India, Truss told a UK parliamentary committee earlier this month.