India, UK to forge 10-year roadmap to deepen Indo-Pacific cooperation, push talks on trade ties

New Delhi: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will visit India next month to attend the Republic Day celebrations as the chief guest, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced on Tuesday.

After holding talks with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during which the two sides agreed on the key elements of an ambitious 10-year roadmap to further broaden ties, and also boost strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.

In their wide-ranging talks, Jaishankar and Raab also discussed having an 'Enhanced Trade Partnership' by next year that could be a stepping stone towards a future free trade agreement.

At a joint press conference with Raab, Jaishankar said the nearly four-hour talks focused on five key areas — trade and prosperity, defence and security, climate change, healthcare and people-to-people connectivity.

In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs said both sides agreed to "prioritise finalisation of an ambitious, 360 degree roadmap" for upgrading the India-UK partnership to the next level and it will be adopted at the forthcoming visit of the British prime minister to India.

It said both sides recognised the importance of "fast tracking" the discussions on a trade deal as well as concluding a comprehensive migration and mobility partnership agreement that can facilitate swifter movement of students and professionals in both directions.

The two sides also reviewed the situation in Afghanistan, the evolution of the Indo-Pacific and developments in the Middle East besides discussion on shared concerns over challenges posed by terrorism and radicalism, he said.

"Overall, it would be fair to say that we had a very productive discussion as our partnership becomes more ambitious and consequential," Jaishankar saaid.

Raab said "Prime Minister Boris Johnson has invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to join the UK-hosted G7 summit next year. The UK Prime Minister has also accepted the very generous invitation to attend India's Republic Day celebrations (as chief guest) in January which is a great honour."

Johnson will be the second British Prime Minister to grace the Republic Day celebrations after John Major in 1993. Overall, he is set to be the sixth British leader to grace the occasion.

According to Downing Street, Johnson while describing India as a key player in the Indo-Pacific region said that his visit will mark the start of an "exciting year" for Global Britain and deliver a "quantum leap" in the bilateral ties.

Downing Street said that trade and investment, defence and security, health and climate change have been identified as some of the priority areas of focus on both sides for the visit in the New Year.

"I am absolutely delighted to be visiting India next year at the start of an exciting year for Global Britain, and look forward to delivering the quantum leap in our bilateral relationship that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and I have pledged to achieve," said Johnson.

"As a key player in the Indo-Pacific region, India is an increasingly indispensable partner for the United Kingdom as we work to boost jobs and growth, confront shared threats to our security and protect our planet," he said.

Talking about growing congruence in strategic ties, the British foreign secretary said a closer relationship with India, and the wider Indo-Pacific region, is one of the "very highest policy priorities" for the UK government.

He said the UK's integrated strategic policy review will contain an "Indo-Pacific tilt", noting that there is "no stronger partner" for his country in the east than India.

"Welcomed UK's Indo-Pacific tilt. Will cooperate closely on global issues and in multilateral organisations," Jaishankar said.

Raab further said:"We agreed on the key elements of a 10-year UK-India roadmap so that we can deliver a step change in ambition for the relationship between our two countries."

A media release from the British High Commission said the Foreign Secretary is due to meet Modi on Wednesday to discuss the '10-year roadmap' for a new era in the UK-India relationship, closer collaboration on an enhanced trade partnership, and working together to end the coronavirus crisis and tackle climate change.

Noting that India and the UK already have a strong and growing trade relationship and in the year before the pandemic hit, bilateral trade between India and the UK grew at a vibrant 11 percent, the British foreign secretary said the UK wants to further deepen its economic partnership.

"The UK and India have an invaluable and indispensable partnership, and we look forward to strengthening it in the years ahead. Together we can deliver an Enhanced Trade Partnership next year, combine our cyber security expertise to protect our citizens and join forces to protect global health and promote things like vaccine production," he said.

The media release said an immediate win has been the UK global tariff schedule, which could reduce tariffs on Indian exports by up to GBP 40 million per year from  1 January, 2021.

It said the "Enhanced Trade Partnership" will unlock economic benefit for the UK and India.

"Ahead of a future Free Trade Agreement, it will boost bilateral trade and investment, which already stands at almost GBP 24 billion and grew by 11 percent in the last financial year. UK-India investment supports over half a million jobs in each other's economies," it said.

Raab's three-day visit to India from 14-17 December comes at a time the UK is holding complex negotiations with the European Union on reaching a post Brexit trade deal.

In the wake of Brexit, the UK has been looking at ramping up trade cooperation with leading economies like India. There have been apprehensions that its separation from the European Union without a trade deal could severely cripple its financial markets and may have long-term implications for its economy.

Raab's visit also comes days after protests were held outside the Indian High Commission in London in support of agitating farmers against the newly enacted farm laws. New Delhi has already taken up the issue of safety and security of its staff in its mission with British authorities.

However, there was no official word on whether the issue figured in Jaishankar-Raab talks.

The British foreign secretary also said that his government is committed to building a stronger defence and security partnership with India, adding it will help in tackling shared issues of concern such as, terrorism and maritime security as well as piracy in the Western Indian Ocean.

"It will also help us respond to the new and emerging challenges like space and cybersecurity. We want to work together to ensure our telecoms networks, our 5G networks, are more secure and resilient," he said.

The two sides deliberated on all regional security issues, people familiar with the talks said when asked whether the border standoff between India and China in eastern Ladakh figured in the deliberations.

Raab also reaffirmed that the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group will visit the Indo-Pacific region next year.

Jaishankar, in his remarks, also said,"as democratic polities, market economies and pluralistic societies, we can, we should and we will make a difference to the realisation of a rules-based global order."



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