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Badenoch: India’s election not a deadline for trade deal

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TRADE secretary Kemi Badenoch on Thursday (7) said she did not see a forthcoming election in India as a deadline for securing a trade agreement between the countries, saying it would be “challenging” to secure a deal by then but possible.

Britain and India have held stop-start talks over a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) for two years, and both countries are set to hold national elections in 2024 that could complicate the timeline for negotiations.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is seeking to win a third term, with the official election campaign expected to begin in the coming weeks.

“We can actually sign an agreement before the Indian election. I suspect that that is not necessarily going to be the case because I don’t want to use any election as a deadline,” Badenoch said at an event at Chatham House in London.

“It is possible that we can sign, but I’m not using it as a deadline.”

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Ministers in British prime minister Rishi Sunak’s government have said that the content of the deal matters more than the date it is delivered, marking a contrast with his predecessors who had suggested deadlines for a deal that were then missed.

Badenoch cited India’s negotiations with the EU, which launched over a decade ago, and said the size of India and the differences between the two economies made talks more complex.

“India is still very protectionist, whereas we are very, very liberalised,” Badenoch said, adding she was interested in “high-quality trade deals”, with Britain pulling for better coverage on services and digital trade, and not just goods.

“It has to be something that is commercially meaningful,” she said. “Trying to do something that’s going to make sense for the UK as it is in 2024, not 1984 or 1954, is challenging.”

Vikram Doraiswami, high commissioner of India to the UK, said it was natural that each side in a trade negotiation brought their own particular interests to the table, but that a deal with Britain was being prioritised.

“We are negotiating one (an FTA) which we hope we can bring to a conclusion soon,” Doraiswami said later at the same event.

“The FTA with the UK for us is obviously of great importance as an affirmation of the strategic depth that we seek to develop with this important partner country.”

(Reuters)

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