India is committed to negotiating a bilateral trade deal with the UK, which has already missed the Diwali deadline, but is keeping tabs on how the situation unfolds with Rishi Sunak being appointed as the third British Prime Minister this year.
While Sunak’s former boss had set a Diwali target to conclude talks and most of the issues had been sorted out, Suella Braverman’s loose remarks on Indians being the largest group of people overstaying in the UK was seen to be a major hurdle.
Following her ouster as home secretary, India and the UK were expected to reaffirm their commitment but then Liz Truss resigned as PM. Now, with Sunak in the saddle, the government expects the negotiations to recommence with some of the ticklish issues around visa flexibility in return for lower import duties on Scotch and automobiles, among others, expected to be taken up.
A lot will depend on who is named the new trade secretary and how soon the engagement with commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal begins.
Government officials told TOI that a trade deal is a win-win for both sides, given that the UK is in the grip of an economic slowdown and needs to penetrate other markets, following its exit from the European Union. In return, India is hoping to get concessions on crucial products, such as textiles and leather goods, apart from an easier visa regime for its professionals, something that it has managed to extract from Australia, which too entered into an agreement with the UK.
Officials, however, made it clear that they are not chasing any deadline and would not settle for anything but a good deal, where its interests on sensitive sectors such as agriculture are protected and it manages to get visa and other concessions.
In any case, the process of getting a green light from the British parliament will be time consuming and even the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement is yet to be notified almost seven months after the deal was signed.
Besides, they said that even the lowering of duties on Scotch, a key interest area for distillers, is going to come with certain benefits for Indian entities. “We don’t want whisky to simply land on our shores in bottles,” said an officer. They pointed to the Australian case, where the interim agreement proposes assistance for Indian winemakers.