Britain and India are committed to an enhanced trade partnership as the first step towards a positive free trade agreement in future and plans are expected to be further formalised during the visit of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to India in the coming months, the UK's Minister for South Asia has said.
Lord Tariq Ahmad, who is also Minister for the Commonwealth in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), said the strong relationship between the two countries has been further intensified with the vaccine collaboration to help fight the common enemy in the form of Covid-19.
"We have been undertaking steps to remove barriers to trade and the hope is that an Enhanced Trade Partnership will lead to a positive free trade agreement (FTA) with India in future,” said Ahmad, in an interaction to mark India’s 72nd Republic Day celebrations on Tuesday.
"The ultimate goal is an FTA and the first steps in that direction are expected to form part of the initiatives that will be unveiled when the Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) visits India later this year,” he said.
The minister indicated that many practical steps in the shape of business-to-business relations, which fully utilise the “under-leveraged” Indian diaspora in the UK, are also in the works.
Alongside, a “real professional partnership” that takes on board the mobility of skilled professionals and students between the two countries will be at the heart of a further strengthened bilateral relationship for a post-Brexit Global Britain.
“India, as the pharmacy of the world, is a key composite to both our countries’ commitment to the equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines around the world, through the COVAX facility. This has been a key area of collaboration, including between AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India,” said Ahmad, in reference to the vaccine collaboration.
The UK has committed 548 million pounds to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), which aims to provide at least 1 billion doses of vaccines for high-risk populations in 80 low and lower-middle-income countries and 12 eligible upper-middle-income countries in 2021, including India.
The Serum Institute of India (SII) will be one of the main suppliers of COVAX AMC, besides providing a significant proportion of India’s domestic supply. The current COVAX portfolio includes 170 million AstraZeneca doses and 200 million doses of AstraZeneca or Novavax from the SII, with an option of up to 900 million doses agreed.
The minister also offered his “deepest condolences” to the loss of life from the fire at the Pune-based institute’s vaccine facility last week, as he paid tribute to the work being conducted in the field of vaccines as a result of the UK-India partnership, at a government-to-government as well as private sector level.
“India is a strategic partner and we look forward to working closer together within the Commonwealth as we look towards Kigali (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda in June),” he added.
According to latest FCDO data, UK-India bilateral trade increased by over 11 per cent to nearly 24 billion pounds and the UK was the largest European market for India’s goods exports in the 2019-20 financial year.