The International Trade Secretary – who is also pushing hard to get a similar pact with Australia across the line – is working feverishly to sew up post-Brexit deals with major economies, and has also lodged an application for the UK to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), with negotiations due to get underway this year. New Delhi signed a deal with Tokyo which does away with tariffs on more than 90 percent of trade – and Mrs Truss hailed it as proof that it was possible to break into India’s famously protectionist market.
The Tory MP for South West Norfolk told the Telegraph: “We want a deal that goes further than that, particularly in areas like digital and data, and legal services.”
“Some people say it can’t be done but the fact is Japan has a free trade agreement with India that they struck back in 2011.”
She explained: “We want a deal that goes further than that, particularly in areas like digital and data, and legal services is very important for the UK.
“We’re looking for an interim agreement next year.”
The Department for International Trade (DIT) has launched a 14-week consultation last night to canvass the views of businesses on a free trade agreement with India prior to talks getting underway in the autumn.
Britain is hoping to double trade with India by 2030 from its current level of £23bn, with Ms Truss hoping for an interim deal which would cut tariffs on products such as whiskey and cars exports.
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Nevertheless, Mrs Truss has her work cut – Japan and South Korea are two of just a handful of major economies which have managed to strike trade agreements with India.
The European Union’s efforts to reach a deal are currently stalled.
In addition, one potential sticking point is Indian efforts to secure better access to visas, although the UK did recently relax some its rules in relation to the country.
Mrs Truss predicted “huge progress” could be made, insisting the new points-based immigration system “has already been a lot better for India”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to postpone a trip to Delhi earlier this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, earlier this month he and Indian counterpart Narendra Modi spoke via video link to formalise a £1 billion agreement which Mr Johnson said would create 6,500 British jobs, and which both sides hope will pave the way for a wider-ranging deal.
Mr Johnson said: “Like every aspect of the UK-India relationship, the economic links between our countries make our people stronger and safer.
“In the decade ahead, with the help of the new Partnership signed today and a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, we will double the value of our trading partnership with India and take the relationship between our two countries to new highs.”
Commenting, Nayan Gala, co-founder of venture capitalist firm JPIN VCATS, told Express.co.uk: “It’s great to see that the UK and Indian governments have agreed to this trade partnership.
“India is a 21st century powerhouse and the UK-India trading relationship is already worth almost £24 billion, with 383 Indian companies in the UK employing more than 82,000 people.”
Mr Gala added: “The ETP will help to fuel economic recovery in a post-Brexit, post-Covid UK and really allow the UK to benefit from the immense growth India is about to experience in the coming decade.
“A free trade deal with India could be as high as £50-100 billion and will open the door to 1.3 billion potential customers for UK businesses, and provide opportunities for business improvement, consolidation, foreign expansion and diversification in a rapidly growing market.”
Meanwhile, in a paper published last month and entitled Eastern Promise: Assessing the Future of UK-India Trade, Shanker Singham, academic fellow at the Institute for Economic Affairs, said: He explained: “There are real opportunities for both the UK and India of a Free Trade Agreement, and these are not limited to commercial benefits only.
“There is a crucial geo-political dimension of aligning a group of countries including the UK, US, India and the CPTPP nations (especially Australia, New Zealand and Japan) who believe in competitive markets, property rights protection, and open trade.
“But India will have to choose to align itself to these core values – it is at that vital crossroads now.”