Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022


The UK’s international trade secretary has said “everything is on the table to discuss”, including immigration, as he begins trade negotiations with India, the largest country with which the UK has tried to sign a post-Brexit free trade agreement.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan said her team has “a broad mandate to crack down on the cabinet”, including negotiating India’s demands for easier visa access for students and skilled workers. She said the UK wanted to finalize an agreement in early 2023, ahead of both Indian and British general elections next year.

Trevelyan will meet with Piyush Goyal, India’s trade minister, to launch formal trade talks with India on Thursday. Their teams will hold a first round of talks this month.

The UK’s key demands include cuts Indian tariffs on British whiskey, cars and wind turbine parts, while India sought concessions on visa and immigration quotas and market access for agricultural products, such as basmati rice.

However, creating more immigration openings for highly skilled Indian workers and students in the UK could be a setback for many Brexit-backed Conservative party voters and MPs, who want to curb immigration flows while expanding economic ties outside the EU.

“Everything is on the table to discuss. Absolutely, “Trevelyan said in an interview with the Financial Times. “At the end of the day, I will take back an agreement to the cabinet that I think is great for UK businesses and provides opportunities for them to see trade and investment growth ahead.”

Boris Johnson’s government has made the acquisition of new bilateral agreements a central part of its post-Brexit trade policy. So far, it has completed agreements with Australia and Japan and transferred EU agreements with more than 60 other countries. Trevelyan hopes to join the Trans-Pacific Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, or CPTPP, through the end of this year and to negotiate more agreements as with the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The value of trade between the UK and India, valued at £ 18.5 billion in 2020, has stagnated over the past decade. The UK wants flows to more than double to £ 50 billion by 2030.

India, with 1.4 billion people, is expected to surpass China as the world’s largest country by population in the coming years, with its growing middle class creating attractive opportunities for foreign enterprises. But reaching an agreement with New Delhi within a year will be difficult and free trade agreements have provoked fierce domestic resistance in the country.

In 2019, India decided not to join the pan-Asian RCEP trade agreement on concerns that its markets would be flooded with Chinese goods. Narendra Modi government’s talks with the US and EU have made little progress, although it hopes to finalize others with the UAE and Australia in the coming months.

A Downing Street information document from last year acknowledged that an agreement with India would be “challenging”, especially when it comes to immigration and visa issues. At least 1.5 million people of Indian descent live in the UK and the country is one of the largest sources of skilled immigration to Britain and student visa applicants.

Referring to India, Tory MP Edward Leigh complained in parliament this month that Brexit voters did not want to “replace immigration from Europe with more immigration from the rest of the world”. He accused the UK of being “held ransom” by India over visas.

Trevelyan argued that the Home Office’s points-based immigration system will help address Indian concerns about immigration by creating more opportunities for skilled workers. She added that her team was willing to discuss demands for additional access: “In terms of discussions on anything further, negotiations will kick off and we will see how it progresses.”

Trevelyan also welcomed the Indian government’s move last year to scrap a controversial retroactive tax law that has sparked disputes with British companies, including Cairn Energy and Vodafone.

She said the talks would provide a new opportunity “to release some of these historical constraints” on foreign investment.



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