India wants UK trade pact to boost services

NEW DELHI: The government is unlikely to agree to major tariff concessions, including on Scotch and automobiles, without getting a matching deal on services under the proposed bilateral trade agreement with the UK.
Given that tariffs are low in the UK, the only major concession that India can hope to get on the services front is easier access and a liberal visa regime for its students and professionals, something it managed to get with Australia under the interim trade deal or Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement. Officials indicated that New Delhi was looking for an improvement over what has been offered by Australia but the recent statements from London have dampened some of the bonhomie seen during the several rounds of talks.
Given the UK’s domestic concerns, Indian negotiators are sceptical if the Liz Truss government can stick to the Diwali deadline. In any case the Modi administration is in favour of getting a “good deal”, instead of a “quick deal”, with commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal stating on Friday that India will accord top priority to national interest, while negotiating free trade agreements (FTAs).
“FTAs to be entered into after thorough consultation with all stakeholders, including industry, and the government will not diverge from this approach for the sake of deadlines,” the minister was quoted as saying in an official statement.
The vocal Scotch companies are lobbying hard for tariff concessions, arguing that Indian companies have nothing to lose, but the government is quite clear that there has to be a “good deal” for the economy in addition to benefits for the local ecosystem. In case of Australia, where India for the first time agreed to lower import duty on wine, a collaboration with local players was something that insisted on.
Government officials indicated that India is walking the extra mile by shedding some of its past inhibitions and engaging in new areas to arrive at a balanced outcome but the UK also needed to address several concerns that India has, especially on services.
UK home secretary Suella Braverman’s statement regarding “reservations” over the proposed trade agreement by linking it to illegal immigration has not gone down well with the Indian negotiators, although they argue that the two countries are on course to finalise the pact soon.