UK PM Boris Johnson's India visit likely to propel free trade talks

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson | Photo: AP

London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to arrive in India next week, soon after the long Easter break in the UK, with a state visit that highlights a successful India-UK partnership on the agenda besides a wide-ranging schedule in New Delhi, according to highly-placed Indian government sources.

The visit next week, which is yet to be formally announced by Downing Street, follows the successful completion of four out of 26 chapters in the ongoing India-UK free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Johnson are expected to take stock of the negotiations and mandate a timeline for the possible completion of the process, initially set for the end of this year.

According to officials close to the discussions, there has also been “significant progress” in the remaining 22 chapters of the FTA at the end of the first two rounds of official negotiations, with the third round of talks scheduled for later this month.

The focal point of Johnson's India visit is expected to be on April 21 and 22, when bilateral discussions and interactions with Indian business leaders are on the cards. A joint statement, being worked on by both sides, is likely to cover agreements across a variety of sectors, including defence and security and education.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is likely to feature strongly during the meeting, but officials pointed out that other regional matters such as the situation in Afghanistan and the UK's Indo-Pacific tilt will be high on the agenda of the bilateral visit.

The officials maintain that discussions with the UK over India's stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict have remained “cordial”, with a respect for New Delhi's hopes of a peaceful resolution through diplomatic means.

Closer defence ties that overcome some “legacy issues” around technology transfer and make use of the 'Make in India' initiative are seen as an important aspect of future India-UK relations, against the backdrop of India's historic defence equipment ties with Russia. Modi and Johnson last met in person on the sidelines of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November last year, when their talks during the World Leaders' Summit focussed on the India-UK climate partnership as well as a review of the 2030 Roadmap the pair had signed during a virtual summit in May 2021.

The Roadmap, which aims to at least double bilateral trade between India and the UK by 2030, has been dubbed a comprehensive agreement that prioritises areas where the two countries are “natural partners”.

Johnson's expected visit next week is seen as long overdue, having been cancelled twice before – first when he was invited as a chief guest for Republic Day celebrations due to a COVID-19 spike in the UK in early 2021 and then cancelled again as a result of the pandemic situation in India around this time last year.


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