Hope to find 'landing point' that works for both in India-UK FTA: Jaishankar

Hope to find 'landing point' that works for both in India-UK FTA: Jaishankar

London, Nov 14 (PTI) The free trade agreement (FTA) is very much the focus of the India-UK relationship today and India is hopeful of finding a 'landing point' in the negotiations that works for both sides, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has said.

At a special Diwali Reception organised by the High Commission of India at Westminster Central Hall near the Houses of Parliament here on Monday evening, Jaishankar addressed a large diaspora gathering during which he described the bilateral relationship with the UK as a 'positive force' for the world.  He also shared insights into the fast pace of technological advances and socio-economic development underway in India, calling on the UK-based Indian diaspora – one of the largest in the world – to spread the story of the new India.

“Today to realise the Agenda 2030, we are focusing on what is officially called an Enhanced Trade Partnership, in common terms it’s called an FTA – or free trade agreement. And that is today very much the focus of what the Indian and British systems are negotiating, and we hope that we will find a landing point that works for both of us,” said Jaishankar.

“India and the UK have a long history, and a very complex history. What we are trying to do is to make history a positive force with our commonalities, shared practices and institutions… to make history work for us,” he said.

India and the UK have been negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) since January last year with a target to significantly enhance the estimated GBP 36-billion bilateral trading partnership.

The talks have undergone 13 rounds of negotiations, with officials hopeful of clinching a deal ahead of general elections in both countries scheduled for 2024.

Jaishankar, who arrived in the UK over the weekend for a five-day visit, began his address by thanking British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for taking the time to host him at 10 Downing Street on a busy Diwali day on Sunday.  Referencing the UK government upheaval on Monday, he spoke of how he “really valued” that the newly appointed Foreign Secretary David Cameron – elevated to the Cabinet in a surprise reshuffle by Sunak just hours before – made time to meet him on day one of his new job even before he “addressed his own ministry”.

“It was extremely satisfying to hear from him about the commitment and support for the relationship. We spent a lot of time talking about cultivating both,” he said.

Jaishankar shared that he also met Cameron’s predecessor and outgoing Foreign Secretary, new UK Home Secretary James Cleverly, whom he described as a “pillar of strength” for the bilateral relationship.

Jaishankar noted: “There is a global significance for a stronger India-UK relationship. Today, one of the biggest problems the world faces is somehow the manner in which globalisation has unfolded across borders in the last 30-odd years. It has led to a concentration of production in certain limited geographies.

“The India-UK relationship can actually contribute to making India and UK stronger factors in contemporary technology, in greater manufacturing, in science and innovation, and much more relevant ways of modernising… it can also promote pluralism, democracy, respect for diversity in the world because these are values and practices that we hold very dear.” The External Affairs Minister also flagged the “wonderful” diaspora, which he said acts as a “motivator” to enhance bilateral ties and meet the “enormous promise” of the relationship.

On the domestic front, he highlighted a series of schemes unfolded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government and pointed to the “brand enhancement” of India with the Chandrayaan space mission as a sign of a country that is “dreaming big and executing big”.

“So, I want you to understand that it's not just change, it is the enormity of the change taking place today… by the end of this decade, India will be a very different society than what it started off as in 2014.

And, if there is one particular aspect of this that should really give us all cause for optimism, it is the enthusiasm with which India has embraced technology,” he said, to applause as he explained how street vendors in the country now use QR codes to conduct their day to day sales.

The minister hoped that his current visit would help to set 'our relationship not just on a firmer footing' and also 'open up new pathways for collaboration.' Jaishankar, accompanied by wife Kyoko Jaishankar, was joined on stage at the event by UK Foreign Office Minister for South Asia Lord Tariq Ahmad and Indian High Commissioner to the UK Vikram Doraiswami.

The minister is expected at a repatriation ceremony for two ancient temple sculptures from Uttar Pradesh and will join a discussion on the theme of ‘How a billion people see the world’ before he concludes his UK visit on Wednesday. PTI AK NSD AKJ AKJ

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