London, Jan 20 (PTI) The negotiations between India and the UK to strike a free trade agreement (FTA), which was launched last week, will conclude quickly due to an “absolute agreement” at the senior political level, the Mayor for the West Midlands region of England has said.
Andy Street, who is in charge of the West Midlands Combined Authority that covers some of England’s major industrial hubs of Birmingham and Coventry, expects his region to hugely benefit from such an FTA.
The UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) confirmed on Thursday that the FTA talks kick-started virtually on Monday and the first round is expected to last two weeks.
Last week, UK International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan met her Indian counterpart Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal in New Delhi to formally flag off the negotiations. While their joint statement sets an end of the year timeline for conclusion of negotiations, there is much speculation that such discussions are likely to drag on much further.
“These things tend to be rather longer than one would wish,” Andy Street told PTI.
“But I think there’s a critical ingredient here: there seems to me to be absolute agreement at the senior political level that this has got to happen as quickly as possible. It is surprising how that can unlock these deals more quickly than otherwise. So, I think this will go very, very quickly,” he said.
The mayor for the region that is dubbed the automotive capital of the UK, being home to the country’s largest car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), believes the trade talks with India hold out great tariff-free promise for the West Midlands.
He said: “The big picture is that within the overall UK-India relationship there’s a real opportunity for the West Midlands to build a strong trading relationship. We’ve already got a very good relationship because our single biggest company, Jaguar Land Rover, is owned by Tata.
“So, there’s an incredible Indian investment here and what we believe is that there’ll be many, many more opportunities particularly in sectors where we are very strong – automotive, net zero – overlap perfectly with the Indian economy.” With its automotive cluster, 50 per cent of the research and development (R&D) for the sector is done in and around Birmingham.
“This is the region that will gain most. We’ve seen JLR turning to electric and also electric taxis being built, there’s electric motorcycles. So, this sector is becoming really, really strong here. Of course, the absence of tariffs with India will enable us to really work with the innovators,” said the Mayor.
According to official statistics, the West Midlands is second after London and the south east of England in terms of inward investments from India. Besides JLR, some of the other Indian companies located in the region include software services major Infosys and TVS Motors, which recently acquired Birmingham-based Norton Motorcycles.
“We are very confident that we have got the strength that we can build on the back of that FTA. But it doesn’t stop businesses developing before an FTA is done. We’ve got big aspirations at the moment with a number of Indian companies, Infosys being one, where we are expecting to do an investment deal well before we move to the formality of the FTA,” said Street.
As the force behind the creation of the West Midlands India Partnership (WMIP) last year to build on the strong Indian diaspora base of the region, the businessman-turned-politician flagged trade, tourism, business and academia as the areas with “huge opportunities to do more”.
With a firm focus on the Commonwealth Games, scheduled for July-August in Birmingham, the region’s Mayor expressed his excitement at playing host as a “good part of the world” comes together with full stadiums and spectators in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The baton for the 2022 Games was in New Delhi to coincide with Trevelyan’s visit to flag off the FTA talks.
“You think of 2022, for the West Midlands the high point will be the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games on July 28. I would extend an invitation to India because it will very much tell the story of a part of the world that is very proud of its links with India and other Commonwealth countries,” said Street.
“We are looking forward to about a million visitors and about a billion people observing this on television, the biggest audience being in India. This is a perfect way to showcase to Indians, who understand the UK very well given the strength of the diaspora, how a region not always in the limelight has developed and what it offers. I hope it encourages more leisure visits and also business visits in the future,” he said. PTI AK ZH ZH
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