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Enhanced trade partnership first step towards UK-India FTA, says UK minister

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LONDON: 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.

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