• Thursday, July 18, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Ready to conclude trade pact, Starmer tells Modi

Prime Minister Keir Starmer delivers a speech, following his first cabinet meeting as Prime Minister, in London, July 6, 2024. (REUTERS/Claudia Greco/Pool)

By: Shajil Kumar

PRIME minister Keir Starmer spoke to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Saturday (6) and said he was keen to conclude a Free Trade Agreement that worked for both sides, Downing Street said.

India and the UK have been negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) for over two years with a Conservative Party-led government but the talks were stalled in the 14th round amidst the general election cycles in both countries.

It is now expected to be picked up by the new Starmer-led Labour government, which was voted in with a landslide this week.

“The prime minister [Starmer] said he looked forward to further deepening the strong and respectful relationship between both countries, and welcomed Modi’s leadership on key global challenges, such as climate change and economic growth,” the spokesperson noted.

The leaders are then said to have discussed the importance of the “living bridge” between both countries, and the 2030 Roadmap and are said to have agreed that there was a wide range of areas across defence and security, critical and emerging technology, and climate change, for the two countries to deepen cooperation on.

“Discussing the Free Trade Agreement, the Prime Minister said he stood ready to conclude a deal that worked for both sides. The leaders hoped to meet at the earliest opportunity,” the spokesperson added.

In New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs said that both leaders recalled the historic relations between the two countries and reaffirmed their commitment to further deepen and advance the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between India and the UK.

The two leaders agreed to work towards early conclusion of a mutually beneficial India-UK FTA, the MEA statement said.

Both sides have been working towards clinching a pact to enhance the £38.1 billion bilateral trading partnership since January 2022, when Boris Johnson was the British prime minister.

The talks have since had to contend with political turmoil in the UK that first led to a short-lived Liz Truss premiership followed by Rishi Sunak as Britain’s first prime minister of Indian heritage.

The Labour Party’s election manifesto for Thursday’s polls committed to clinching the deal, stating: “We will seek a new strategic partnership with India, including an FTA, as well as deepening cooperation in areas like security, education, technology and climate change.”

Modi congratulated Starmer on assuming charge as the UK prime minister and extended invitation to him for an early visit to India. Both leaders agreed to remain in touch, the MEA statement said.

The new Starmer-led government’s new Foreign Secretary, David Lammy, is also on the record saying that he wants to “finish the job” on the FTA and said he plans to visit India within the first month of being elected.

“My message to [Finance] Minister Sitharaman and [Trade] Minister Goyal is that Labour is ready to go. Let’s finally get our free trade deal done and move on,” he said at the India Global Forum in London last week. (PTI)

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