British trade minister Kemi Badenoch will hold her first face-to-face meeting with her Indian counterpart on Monday in New Delhi in an effort to spark life into talks over a free trade agreement (FTA) between the countries.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in April set an ambitious target to agree an FTA with India by Diwali in October. But he was forced to announce his resignation in July, and the deadline was missed.
New Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he is committed to getting a deal with India but won’t sacrifice quality for speed, in a change of tone compared to Johnson.
Badenoch, who was appointed to her role in September, will meet Indian Trade Minister Piyush Goyal and address the negotiating teams before the round of talks begins.
“I’m here in New Delhi to kickstart round six of UK-India trade negotiations and meet my counterpart Minister Goyal in person to drive progress on this agreement,” Badenoch said in a statement.
“Both nations have come to the table with the very highest of ambitions and a willingness to work together towards a mutually beneficial deal.”
Britain’s trade ministry said it would aim to cut tariffs on goods and open opportunities for its services sector.
Among the British industries which want a lower tariff is the whisky sector. The Indian export market for whisky was worth nearly 150 million pounds ($180 million) last year, but there is a 150% tariff.
A priority for India is more visas to study and work in Britain. British interior minister Suella Braverman sparked a row in October when she said Indians were the largest group of migrants who overstay in the country.
Officials have played down the impact of her comments on the negotiations.
In total, Britain and India have a 29 billion pound ($35.54 billion) trading relationship, and expanding it is a major part of Britain’s Indo-Pacific foreign policy tilt, which aims to enhance ties with the region’s fast-growing economies.
“The UK-India FTA remains a top priority for industry. We applaud the Secretary of State and Prime Minister for listening and prioritising substance over pace,” said Andy Burwell, International Director at the Confederation of British Industry.
“Trade is a fundamental driver of growth and India will be an important partner and market as the UK looks to escape stagflation.”
Badenoch said last month that Britain should be doing better on trade in the wake of its decision to leave the European Union, adding that she believed the benefits of Brexit would be more long term.
The trip marks the first formal round of negotiations since July.