Britain’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, was testifying before the House of Commons International Trade Committee when asked about the timetable announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his visit to India the last week.
The minister said the negotiating teams, currently in India for the third round of FTA negotiations, were “moving at pace” and that if they encountered any “obstacles in the way”, these would be dealt with accordingly.
“Diwali seems like a good landing spot. Like all of these things, if you provide a political anchor, it helps to boost the energy,” Trevelyan said, in response to questions from the all-party parliamentary committee.
“But we may still encounter areas of disagreement and need more time for (them). But our respective Prime Ministers have given us this landing zone and there is real optimism and real effort on both sides… the team is there this week moving into the next stage, looking at the different chapters where those areas of agreement are and looking at the text already, which is really exciting,” she said.
“The Prime Minister was away last weekend helping to champion all the work my team is doing to push forward an FTA with India,” she added.
The Chief Cabinet Minister also indicated that while a tentative deal by mid-April before a full-fledged FTA by the end of the year was on the agenda, there has been a change of direction. state of mind on the Indian side to move forward with a final agreement by the end of the year. October.
“It’s (an interim deal) a tool, but their mindset has changed since they made deals with Australia and the UAE. Getting an interim deal in mid- April failed due to resource capacity within their trade team,” Trevelyan said, referring to India’s recent trade deals with Australia and the UAE.
“In fact, after having had two rounds of discussions with their fantastic team, it feels like we can probably do more than maybe these early conversations, so we’ve all challenged ourselves to see if we can. shape what will be the broad FTA both sides want to see unfold over the course of this year,” she said.
The minister was also asked about India’s “neutrality” in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and its impact on the talks. However, Trevelyan made it clear that the “trade route” of the bilateral relationship is unrelated to the diplomatic side.
“Each country is taking a stand. India has taken a neutral stance…The main thing is that the trade deals are not a tool for a larger discussion on the diplomatic deal. These are continuing and the Discussions continue on areas of policy divergence, whatever they may be,” she said. mentioned.
“What we will continue to do is encourage everyone to think about how their relationship, either with Russia or Ukraine, can be improved or reduced in order to end this war as well. quickly as possible,” she noted.
The Minister underlined that while historically FTAs have focused on the “direct transmission of goods”, they now aim to go beyond areas such as innovation.
On a specific question as to whether her negotiating team has a mandate to raise issues regarding the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, she replied: “No, they have a very clear mandate to continue discussing the wide range of trade issues that we want to see in a trade deal with India”.
The Minister reiterated that the UK wanted to see a “broad partnership” covering defense and strategic links and as part of these discussions UK Minister of State for Defense Procurement Jeremy Quin traveled to India in recent days to speak to his Indian counterparts. .
“So there are a lot of different tracks going on but for the FTA we have an all Whitehall mandate and the team is striving to improve and we’ll see how we go. Hopefully we can make good progress. , but we can but face challenges,” she said.
During his two-day visit to India, Johnson announced that he and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked negotiators to conclude the FTA before Diwali, which falls on October 24 this year.
On the eve of the visit, officials confirmed that four of the FTA’s 26 chapters had been finalized in the first two rounds since negotiations began in January and that “significant progress” had been made in all 22 chapters. remaining.