Diwali target for India-UK FTA possible but not final, experts say after PM Johnson quits


It is always good to have a deadline to meet when negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), but the Diwali target set for the India-UK FTA by outgoing UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson doesn’t have to be set in stone, according to strategic and industry experts here.

At the end of a week of monumental political turmoil that ended with Johnson announcing his resignation to make way for a new prime minister in a few months, the inevitable attention has been turned to what that means for India-UK bilateral relations in general and the historic FTA now in its fourth phase of negotiations specifically.

Although there is a general consensus that there is unlikely to be any significant change in the foreign policy stance under a new outgoing Conservative Party at 10 Downing Street, a delay of a few months by compared to the October deadline for the conclusion of a draft FTA could well be on the cards.

“India made very quick deals with the UAE and Australia, in less than 90 days, but their content and comprehensiveness is much lighter than what we expect with the FTA between the UK and India,” said the president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Lord Karan Bilimoria, who leads the UK and India Industry Task Force as a joint committee to improve cross-industry collaboration on ongoing trade negotiations.

“I would much rather have a more comprehensive deal that takes a bit longer to complete. It’s good to have a deadline, it’s good to have that goal to try and get Diwali done. But it doesn’t is maybe not the end of October but the end of December; my goal is the end of this year,” the Indian-born businessman said.

He warned of the inevitable last-minute problems, but remained “very optimistic” that a comprehensive pact could be reached during this year due to reports of “good progress” in completing the 26 estimated chapters.

“Boris Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister has seen an unprecedented political commitment to strengthening ties with India, reciprocal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” said Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, senior South Asia researcher at the group. think tank of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). .

“While Johnson has firmly set the direction of travel with India, he is leaving before the pace of travel has been determined… [and] with Johnson as caretaker prime minister, it remains to be seen to what extent he can conclude a landmark bilateral FTA by October, to be signed by his successor, and whether much-needed legacy defense technology cooperation can be realized,” he said.

Gareth Price, senior researcher, Asia-Pacific Programme, at UK-based international affairs think tank Chatham House, said FTAs, by their very nature, take a long time to negotiate and that ‘an obsession with deadlines should not lead to a dilution strengthened commercial partnership.

“It’s just kind of a knee-jerk reaction that it’s good to have a deadline, but I wouldn’t bet big money that it would definitely be met. With the upheavals in the UK, if there’s concessions to be made, it would be interesting to see if they can be agreed within that timeframe,” Price said.

On the legacy of Boris Johnson’s nearly three-year tenure, the overwhelming view is that he would leave behind a very pro-India foreign policy and that little would change in terms of strengthening relations with India. India and Indo at large. -Pacific region.

“His love for India is beyond doubt. India has been a priority country for him, as evidenced by the launch of the FTA talks… It is such a special, centuries-old relationship that will only grow stronger,” Bilimoria said.

“The focus on India was partly because the government under Boris Johnson was moving away from Europe and so probably whoever succeeds him will have similar views. But if it’s someone who focuses more on rebuilding the relationship with Europe, so by default there will be less bandwidth to focus on India and other countries,” explained Gareth Price.

Anand Menon, professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London and director of think tank UK in a Changing Europe, does not foresee any significant changes in the UK’s European stance that could impact its direction indo-pacific.

“I don’t see much change in foreign policy after Johnson. I think Boris Johnson’s greatest legacy to British politics in general is Brexit, which forced the UK to be more active in foreign policy,” Menon said.

“We had Brexit, so we had global Britain and much more militant British diplomacy than we have had in a long time. This message will not change at all… In a way because foreign policy is such a low priority that no successor will expend political energy to redo it,” he said.

From an economic perspective too, London City Policy Chairman Chris Hayward believes the focus will be on a stronger partnership between India and the UK.

“The next Conservative Prime Minister will build on this work and continue to strengthen our ties with India. This is an incredibly important market for the UK, we urge that we continue to build on the legacy,” said Hayward, who is planning a visit to Mumbai for high-level talks next week.

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