On a two-day visit to India, United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson landed in Gujarat on Thursday. The British PM immediately went down to the brass tacks and started serenading India to sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that will help the former, resuscitate its economy which hasn’t been in a good shape ever since leaving the European Union. Amid the chatter, Boris also acknowledged that India, which has strong ties to Russia, was “not in the same place” as the UK over the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict. However, he didn’t allow India’s independent stance on the issue to hurt the bilateral relations.
Indicating that he was hopeful that New Delhi will sign on the dotted lines by the end of the year, Boris said, “We’re hoping to complete another free trade agreement with India by the end of the year, by the autumn.”
The British Prime Minister also remarked he was ready to offer more visas to India in return for this year clinching an FTA as Britain was short of workers, “I have always been in favour of talented people coming to this country. We are short to the tune of hundreds of thousands of people in our economy and we need to have a progressive approach and we will.”
We're hoping to complete another free trade agreement with India by the end of the year, by the autumn: UK PM Boris Johnson in Gujarat pic.twitter.com/z9cbDLpb2V
— ANI (@ANI) April 21, 2022
UK wants to contribute to India’s defence manufacturing
Moreover, the Boris Johnson office announced, “UK and Indian businesses will confirm more than £1 billion in new investments and export deals today in areas from software engineering to health, creating almost 11,000 jobs across the UK,…”
On the defence front, it is being reported that the UK is ready to extend its cooperation in realising PM Narendra Modi’s dream of making India a hub of defence manufacturing.
“There’s also the opportunity for us to deepen our security and defence partnership. As you know, the UK is making an Indo-Pacific tilt in our integrated review of our national defence and security strategy.
The history of Free Trade Agreement
As reported by TFI, in 2020, India and the United Kingdom had worked out an ‘Enhanced Trade Partnership’ as a precursor to the larger FTA between the two countries. The EU-India free trade deal has been pending for several years now. And given that the UK has exited the EU, which was India’s single biggest trading partner in the region — New Delhi doesn’t seem much interested in signing a Trade deal with Brussels nor does it seem the deal any viable
Britain has made getting a trade deal with India one of its post-Brexit priorities as ministers, free from the EU’s common trade policy, look to gear policy towards faster-growing economies around the Indo-Pacific region.
Britain has said the trade deal could almost double British exports to India, and by 2035 boost total trade by 28 billion pounds ($38 billion) per year. Total trade in 2019 was worth 23 billion pounds.
UK wary of antagonizing New Delhi
UK and Boris understand that as far as negotiations related to the FTA are concerned, India could shelve them for another few years easily, if it dares to press New Delhi on the Russia issue.
Pressure tactics do not bode well with Prime Minister Modi’s government. London is well advised to not strongarm India into accepting the West’s line on Russia, because of two factors: (a) India has very strong ties with Russia. (b) India follows an independent and autonomous foreign policy.
Jaishankar forced UK to tone down its voice
Last month, in front of visiting British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had exposed the UK as well as Europe for their hypocrisy regarding Russia and India.
Jaishankar said, “Europe bought 15% more oil & gas from Russia than it did a month before. Most of the major buyers of oil & gas from Russia are in Europe. We get the bulk of our energy supplies from the Middle East, about 7.5%-8% from the US, may be less than a per cent from Russia”
He further added, “I am pretty sure if we wait two or three months and actually look at who are the big buyers of Russian oil and gas, I suspect the list would not be too different from what it used to be and I suspect we won’t be in the top 10 on that list.
Europe bought 15% more oil & gas from Russia than it did a month before. Most of the major buyers of oil & gas from Russia are in Europe. We get the bulk of our energy supplies from Middle East, about 7.5%-8% from US, maybe less than a per cent from Russia: EAM Dr S Jaishankar pic.twitter.com/SegTH0fThx
— ANI (@ANI) March 31, 2022
It was at that meeting that the tone was set for India-UK relations in the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Liz remarked that India is a sovereign nation and that the UK was not going to tell India what to do. And Boris, so far on his trip has followed a similar line and channelled all his energy into making the ground for an FTA.
There is chatter that Boris may touch upon the Russia-Ukraine issue on his second day of the trip when he meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, 10 Downing Street is wary to not make it the talking point of the meeting – suggesting he has no issues with Russia-India friendship.