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Talks on UK-India trade deal linger

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s next visit to India does not look imminent unless the ongoing talks on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries suddenly conclude successfully.

Sunak was last in India to attend the G20 Summit in September.

So far, the UK government has not announced a date and the External Affairs Ministry has not issued any related incoming-visit notice. 

The Indian media had reported that Sunak’s visit was expected over October 28-29, when the UK-India FTA would likely be signed and that he might watch a live cricket match between England and India.

 Sunak was in Israel on Thursday to meet leaders amid the escalating Israel-Hamas war.

 The months-long FTA negotiations between India and the UK have yet to lead to a mutually agreeable complete draft. Although, according to diplomatic sources, there is political will on both sides to deliver a comprehensive deal.

 The British High Commission in New Delhi did not comment when asked what issues are slowing progress but said the two sides are working on it and reiterated the UK government’s position.

 “The UK and India continue to work towards an ambitious trade deal that works for both countries,” a spokesperson from the High Commission in Delhi told IANS.

 “We have always been clear we will only sign a deal that is fair, balanced and ultimately in the best interests of the British people and the economy.”

 UK Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch had said during her visit to India in August the FTA talks were in the “final stages” but that a deadline could not be given. 

 The negotiations seem to have gotten tougher since. 

 They are in the most complex phase, dealing with issues,including goods, services and investment, the sources said, adding that the hardest part of such talks always comes at the end. 

 The London-based Financial Times newspaper has reported that Sunak’s hopes of securing the India trade deal this month appear to have faded, with talks stuck in part over access to Indian markets for British professional services, including law and accountancy firms.

 India is seeking more visas for Indian workers in the UK and greater market access for skilled professionals in technology and healthcare, Indian media have reported.

 Bilateral trade was more than 36 billion pounds last year. A website of Badenoch’s department says the UK wants to double trade with India by 2030.

The Union Commerce Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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