Rishi Sunak jets off to India with hopes of speeding up a free trade deal with the world’s most populous country while the G20 converge in New Delhi
- The two sides are said to have made ‘really positive progress’ in recent months
Rishi Sunak heads to India today as he tries to speed up progress on a massive free trade deal with the country.
Government sources said the Prime Minister would use talks in the margins of the G20 summit in the coming days to push for the resolution of trade talks that have been running since January last year.
The two sides are said to have made ‘really positive progress’ in recent months, and officials are already planning for Mr Sunak to return to India later this year to shake hands on a final agreement. This could slash trade barriers with one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
Mr Sunak will head to New Delhi tonight for the start of the G20 summit, which runs over the weekend. His heiress wife Akshata Murty is expected to accompany him.
The summit is set to focus on global issues such as climate change and security, although it has been hit by withdrawals by a number of major figures, including China’s president Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. But Mr Sunak is expected to use the trip to hold face-to-face talks with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at which he will press the case for a trade deal.
Rishi Sunak (right) is expected to use the trip to hold face-to-face talks with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (left)
READ MORE: Britain is on the brink of signing a LANDMARK free trade deal with India, heralding a huge win after Brexit
Indian commerce secretary Sunil Barthwal said in July that the two sides wanted to ‘finalise the deal at the earliest’ opportunity.
He added that almost all the most contentious issues were settled – and predicted the agreement would be signed ‘well before’ the end of this year.
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch returned from talks in India last month to say the deal was in its ‘final stages’.
But sources said differences still remain on a number of key issues, including intellectual property and so-called ‘rules of origin’, which govern how much of a product must originate in a country.
Tory MPs have also raised concerns about reports that Mr Sunak is ready to liberalise the visa regime with India in return for a deal.
While a deal will not be struck this week, officials are drawing up plans for the Prime Minister to return to India later this autumn.
Tentative plans are also being made for him to attend a match at the Cricket World Cup, which is being staged in India throughout October and November, if it coincides with the deal.
Mr Sunak will head to New Delhi tonight for the start of the G20 summit, which runs over the weekend. His heiress wife Akshata Murty is expected to accompany him
A comprehensive free trade deal with India has been seen as a key goal for post-Brexit Britain.
Boris Johnson had pledged to sign a deal by Diwali in October last year. But talks stalled over New Delhi’s demands for more visas for Indian workers.
Mrs Badenoch told MPs that any free trade deal ‘will not contain commitments on immigration or provide access to the UK domestic labour market’.
For India, a free trade deal with the UK would be its first with a developed country after it signed an interim trade pact with Australia last year.
The UK is hoping for wider access for British financial services and luxury goods to one of the world’s biggest markets.
Sam Lowe, a trade expert at the political advisory group Flint Global, said: ‘In terms of the deals the UK has been doing, this is the one – from a long-term economic perspective – that could be the most significant.’
Booze ban in Delhi… but teetotal Sunak won’t mind
Delegates at this week’s G20 summit are facing an alcohol ban, as Indian police try to minimise the risk of disruption.
Bars, restaurants and off-licences in the New Delhi police district have been ordered to stop serving alcohol or close for the duration of the three-day summit this weekend.
The ban has led to panic-buying by locals in recent days. But it has also triggered concerns among national delegations who had not anticipated a ‘dry’ summit.
Rishi Sunak, who will attend the G20, is teetotal. But a Whitehall source said officials were having ‘real difficulty’ finding a restaurant that would serve alcohol.
A three-day holiday has been declared in New Delhi to try to minimise disruption as a massive security operation is mounted.
Organisers are also taking drastic action to prevent delegates being harassed by the city’s monkeys, which are sometimes known to attack pedestrians.
Life-size cut-outs of larger langur monkeys designed to scare off the macaques have been posted and a team of men have reportedly been hired to imitate the sound of langurs.
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