The cancellation of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to India next week, given the prevailing COVID-19 situation in the country, is unlikely to affect the UK-India trade partnership.
Johnson told reporters that he had spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and concluded that the visit planned for April 25-26 would “very sadly” have to be called off. The two leaders are now expected to connect virtually to sign off a much anticipated “Roadmap 2030” as a blueprint for the next decade, on the road to achieving a free trade agreement (FTA) in the future.
Lord Karan Bilimoria, president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), told PTI the vision would be to quadruple bilateral trade during that period and that should not be affected by the discussions being conducted virtually instead. “Although it is disappointing, the mutual decision to postpone the PM’s visit to India is the right one,” he said. “We must now look to maintain momentum; businesses are still hopeful that an enhanced trade deal with India is on the horizon – an ambitious agreement that bolsters our two-way trading relationship across many sectors and is forecast to quadruple bilateral trade to 100 billion pound by 2030. This is a key moment for a transformed UK-India relationship, boosting UK-India trade to new heights.”
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) was equally upbeat about the bilateral relationship, despite the visit being cancelled due to a spike in coronavirus infection rates in India linked with a new variant. Jim Bligh, Chair of the CII UK-India Business Forum, said that given the prevailing COVID situation in India, it is only right that PM Johnson’s visit has been postponed.
“Business knows that the hard work of negotiating an enhanced trade partnership is going on regardless, and we look forward to that important document being signed,” he said. “As the UK and India embark on an ambitious new trading relationship, there will be many more opportunities for both nations’ leaders to meet in safer times.”
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London-based think tank, pointed to the recently released Integrated Review by the British government, which had categorized India as a “key pillar” of the UK’s foreign policy shift. Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, Senior Fellow for South Asia at IISS, said an enhanced trade partnership agreement can still take place. “The finalization of the bilateral UK-India Roadmap 2030, expected at the virtual summit next Monday, prioritizes defence and security ties as one of five key subjects for the transformation of bilateral relations,” he explained. “Bilateral maritime security cooperation will be a highlight of these interactions, and a high-visibility implementation of the proposed 2030 roadmap would maximize its impact.”
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The Roadmap 2030 plan for UK-India ties is aimed at a revitalized and dynamic connect between people; re-energized trade, investment and technological collaboration; enhanced defence and security cooperation and closer engagement on regional issues, including the Indian Ocean Region and Indo-Pacific.