Good market access offered on both sides, says UK on India FTA talks

The UK government has said that the Indian negotiators are in London this week to continue discussions with their British counterparts
Good market access offered on both sides, says UK on India FTA talks
Good market access offered on both sides, says UK on India FTA talks

New Delhi/London: There has been good market access offered on both sides but not enough to secure a free trade agreement (FTA), the UK government has said as Indian negotiators are in London this week to continue discussions with their British counterparts.

During a debate in the House of Lords this week, UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron was addressing questions from British peers on the current state of freedom of religion or belief in India.

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The recent restructuring of the BBC to create a new Indian-owned entity in order to comply with the country’s foreign direct investment (FDI) rules was flagged by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Jeremy Purvis, who questioned the level of market access being offered to India in the field of media, data and telecoms as part of the FTA negotiations.

“My understanding of where we are with the trade deal is that good market access has been offered on both sides, but not quite enough yet to secure a deal. It is important with such trade deals, as you only really get one proper shot at it, to make sure that it is a good enough deal that will be welcomed by industry leaders here in the UK as offering real market access,” said Lord Cameron.

It came as a team from India arrived in London to continue talks this week under the fourteenth round of FTA negotiations, which are aimed at significantly enhancing the GBP 38.1 billion bilateral partnership across different sectors.

Specifically referencing the point on media access, Lord Cameron said he would have to look into the details but his personal view was that “we should open up media access on both sides to make sure we have a good plurality of media”.

Earlier this month, the BBC confirmed the launch of Collective Newsroom as an independent entity which will create programmes and content for the BBC as its first client. Lord Purvis questioned this necessity for Britain's public broadcaster to operate in India unlike in any other country, alluding to "harassment and intimidation" by authorities.

“My understanding is that India passed a law insisting that digital media companies had to be Indian-owned, and the BBC has had to restructure on that basis,” Cameron said, noting that this was “not the British way”.

"Nonetheless, that is the reason why the BBC has restructured, together with some disagreements with India," he said.

Lord Purvis opened his question by referencing the Indian general election, the first phase of which gets underway on Friday, to describe them as a positive for the whole world.

Cameron agreed with his characterisation of the “rumbustious nature of Indian democracy”: “India should be proud of being the biggest democracy in the world. As with all democracies, there are imperfections — as there are in our own country. We should celebrate the scale of India’s democracy.”

Cameron opened the topic in the Upper House of the UK Parliament by laying out that India is a multifaith, multiethnic democracy and among the most religiously diverse societies in the world – home to 966 million Hindus, 172 million Muslims, 28 million Christians, 20 million Sikhs, 8 million Buddhists and 4.5 million Jains.

“India is committed via its Constitution to freedom of religion and belief. Where specific issues or concerns arise, the UK government of course raise these directly with the government of India,” he stated.

Several peers, including British Sikh peer Indrajit Singh, raised concerns about freedom of religion and belief in India and highlighted the violence in Manipur as among the disturbing violations in this sphere.

“It is right to say that we should not downplay the religious aspects of some of this strife [in Manipur]. Sometimes it is communal, tribal or ethnic, but in many cases, there is a clear religious part of it. We should be clear about that,” Cameron responded.

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