Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his British counterpart Boris Johnson on Friday decided to push negotiators from the two countries to seal a free trade agreement by the end of this year.
“Good progress is being made in the negotiations,” Modi said in a joint statement. “And we have decided to do our best to conclude the free trade agreement by the end of this year.”
Johnson said they have told their negotiators to wrap up the deal by Diwali in October, ANI reported.
The free trade deal with India is expected to boost Britain’s trade by up to £28 billion (over 27.91 lakh crore) annually by 2035 and increase incomes across the United Kingdom by up to £3 billion (more than Rs 29,901 crore), a statement from Johnson’s office had earlier said.
Johnson and Modi had announced the trade agreement in May 2021.
“In the last few months, India has concluded Free Trade Agreements with UAE and Australia,” Modi said, reported PTI. “At the same pace, with the same commitment, we would like to move forward on the FTA with the UK as well.”
Modi said that Johnson has played a crucial role in strengthening the relations between the two countries.
“At this time, when India is celebrating the Amrit Festival of its independence, the arrival of Prime Minister Boris Johnson here is a historic moment in itself,” Modi said at a joint news briefing with him on the final day of his two-day trip. This is Johnson’s first visit to the Indian capital as UK prime minister.
Describing ties between India and UK as “one of defining friendships of our times”, Johnson said that the two countries had agreed on a new and expanded bilateral defence and security partnership.
Johnson added that Britain is working on creating an India-specific open general export licence to reduce delivery times for defence items, PTI reported.
The two leaders also discussed the Ukraine war. “We stressed on dialogue and diplomacy in Ukraine for an immediate ceasefire and resolution of the problem,” Modi said. “We also reiterated the importance of respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries.”
The UK, like other Western countries, has been trying to persuade India to condemn Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. On Thursday, Johnson had told reporters that India, which has strong ties to Russia, is “not in the same place” as the UK over the war.
At Friday’s press briefing, Johnson said that the extradition cases of fugitives Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya and some “Khalistani extremists” were stalled due to legal problems, ANI reported.
“We’ve set up an anti-extremist task force to help India,” he said. “We don’t welcome people who want to use our legal system to evade the law in India.”
While Mallya is accused of fraud and money-laundering, Modi is being investigated in the Punjab National Bank scam.
On human rights
Johnson also said on Friday that the UK has conversations about human rights and democratic values with India, ANI reported.
“The advantage of our friendship is that we can have them [talks on human rights] in a friendly way,” he added. “It’s very important to realise that India has constitutional protections for communities.”
“India is a very different country,” he added. “It is a great democracy and that is something we should celebrate.”
Johnson’s comments about human rights came at a time when India has witnessed a spate of communal clashes in various states.
On April 16, members of Hindu and Muslim communities had clashed during a Hanuman Jayanti procession in North West Delhi’s Jahangirpuri. Eight policemen and a civilian were injured in the violence.
On April 10, clashes broke out after some people allegedly hurled stones at a Ram Navami procession, objecting to loud and provocative music being played in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone.
A US Department of State report released on April 12 noted that Muslims in India are vulnerable to communal violence and discrimination.
The report mentioned discrimination against minorities in India, extrajudicial killings, degrading treatment or punishment by the police and prison officials and arbitrary arrests and detentions by government authorities among other concerns.