Rishi Sunak, Narendra Modi and other officials have given a boost to the UK-Indian trade negotiations by instructing them to move “at speed” in order to reach a deal.
The UK Prime Minister and his Indian counterpart displayed a strikingly warm chemistry on Saturday when they met at the margins of G20 Summit, in New Delhi. They embraced each other, laughing, and slapping their backs.
Sunak is the UK’s first prime minister to be of Indian descent. This weekend was his first trip to India since he became Number 10. This trip has generated interest in India and was featured on The Times of India’s front page this week.
Sunak, after the bilateral meeting with London, expressed his confidence that London, New Delhi, and other countries could “work out” obstacles that were preventing a free-trade agreement. He also stressed that both sides “wanted to see a successful deal concluded”.
Before the trip, UK officials cautiously optimistic that an agreement would be reached by Diwali (November 12) raised the possibility of Sunak making a second trip to India in the fall if the deal was clinched.
Sunak also highlighted the prospects of deeper bilateral cooperation on defence and safety, education and researching after his meeting Modi. The UK Prime Minister said that India would be “one the most important geopolitical players” in the coming decades. He added it was vital Britain maintain close ties with India.
Downing Street stated that the two leaders held a “productive conversation” about a possible deal. They also agreed that “ministry and negotiating teams will continue to work at a pace toward a [free-trade agreement]”.
Although there are still some sticking points, Britain hopes to reach a deal which would increase the market for cars and whisky in India and boost services. India wants to increase its exports of goods and services, as well as secure more work visas for their citizens.
Anglo-Indian ties have been strained since Sunak took over Number 10 in October last year. In March, Sikh separatists protesting in London tore a flag off the Indian high commission. New Delhi responded in a tit-fortat manner, removing security barricades outside the British high commission.
Sunak, however, appeared to be trying to begin the meeting with Modi in a positive manner, praising as “absolutely gorgeous” the new convention center modified to accommodate G20 Summit.
The UK Prime Minister said that his daughters were following Chandrayaan-3, the Indian space probe that landed a robotic probe near the south pole of the moon last month. He added that “everyone” was buzzing about this “historic” event.
Sunak confirmed that, after the meeting, he did not hesitate to bring up the case of Jagtar Singh Johal who is currently in jail and facing the death sentence in India.