India to seek duty cuts on textiles in trade pact with Britain

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Queries to the ministry of commerce and industry, and the British high commission in New Delhi remained unanswered till press time…reports Asian Lite News

New Delhi will seek duty exemptions for labour-intensive exports, including textiles, besides easier market access for fisheries, pharmaceuticals and agriculture products, during the second round of India-UK free trade agreement (FTA) talks, said two government officials.

The negotiations, scheduled to take place between 7 and 18 March, will also explore the possibility of an early-harvest agreement, or a mini FTA, for the short-term, as the two countries continue with the talks to iron out differences on sensitive issues.

India is seeking to conclude at least six bilateral trade agreements this year. Last week, New Delhi signed a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) with the UAE for zero-duty access to 90% of Indian products. The deal was closed in a record 88 days.

“The UK agreement will be broader in scope compared with the one India had with the UAE. Duty cuts on textile and exports from labour-intensive sectors, such as leather, footwear, gems and jewellery, are among India’s 10-12 big-ticket wish-list,” said one of the two officials, seeking anonymity.

“Marine products will benefit a lot. India is also looking for access to the UK for pharma and agri products. Besides, trade restrictions that are not tariff-related are also being discussed,” said a second official, also requesting anonymity. The interim deal is expected to cover 65% of goods, and up to 40% of services for concessional or duty-free access. However, the final agreement may cover 90%-plus products.

Queries to the ministry of commerce and industry, and the British high commission in New Delhi remained unanswered till press time.

India has a positive trade balance with the UK, but has been losing its market share in certain key products to other developing countries after the withdrawal of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). “Therefore, it is in the interest of the industry to get zero tariffs in the UK in sectors (such as apparel) where GSP has been withdrawn,” said Arpita Mukherjee, professor, Icrier. Meanwhile, the UK is negotiating access for its services sector, such as legal and accountancy, besides lower tariffs for its Scotch whiskey, which faces 150% duty.

In January, both countries had reiterated their commitment to more than double the value of UK-India trade by 2030. India had a $3.3 billion trade surplus with the UK in 2020-21. The UK is India’s seventh-largest export market, accounting for 2.8% of its total exports, as of June 2021. Resolution Foundation, a UK think-tank, said in a report that British firms were set to gain from a “first mover” advantage ahead of the US and European Union (EU) in India as a result of the FTA, which has the potential to overshadow other major UK trade deals.

The Joint Statement of the 15th Meeting of the India-UK Joint Economic and Trade Committee said both countries “looked forward to the first shipment of apples and medical devices into India and welcomed the listing of 56 new Indian fisheries establishments”.

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