Businesses tell UK to ‘hold out’ for India trade deal as Diwali deadline looms

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LONDON — British business groups are today warning the U.K.’s trade chief to pump the brakes on trade talks with India or risk leaving important sectors behind.

“It is the content of the deal which matters for U.K. businesses, not speed of negotiation,” 11 different trade bodies — including representatives of tech, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and business services — urge Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan in an open letter.

​​The government and its negotiators need “to hold out for a commercially meaningful and comprehensive deal, even if doing so means that the self-imposed deadline of Diwali is not met,” they warn.

When he visited India in April, outgoing U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told negotiators to get the deal “done by Diwali.” The Indian festival of lights starts a little over two months from now on October 24.

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Neither Tory leadership candidate running to replace Johnson has suggested they will move that deadline.  

“We appreciate the efforts of negotiators on both sides, who are working tirelessly, but substance needs to come before any deadline,” the industry groups urge. Signatories include TechUK, the City of London Corporation, the Law Society of England and Wales, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the Chemical Industries Association, among others.

Their intervention comes after India’s commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said this week that talks are moving at a “faster pace.”

Negotiators are working “intensively throughout the summer towards our target to conclude the majority of talks on a comprehensive and balanced Free Trade Agreement by the end of October 2022,” read a U.K.-India joint statement on the fifth round of talks released Wednesday.

Britain’s services sectors — which make up nearly 80 percent of U.K. economic activity — have been especially concerned about the deal since the majority of talks are focussed on lowering tariffs rather than the regulatory alignment that would benefit them most.

“The U.K. public relations industry is a great success story but for continued growth it depends on genuine open and global markets,” said Alastair McCapra, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, which signed the letter.

He called “for an ambitious trade deal that delivers on the U.K. government’s commitment to be a services powerhouse.”

Negotiating until a “balanced outcome is achieved, even if that means continuing past October,” the businesses said, “is entirely consistent with the government’s manifesto commitments.”

A Department for International Trade spokesperson said: “India is projected to be the world’s third largest economy by 2050, and any improvements to our current trading arrangement could be game changing for U.K. businesses. We remain clear that we won’t sacrifice quality for speed and will only sign a deal which delivers for the U.K.”

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