Sunak arrives in Delhi for G20 summit, says free trade agreement between UK and India not guaranteed
The most obvious hurdle toward a deal is India's desire for the UK to make more visas available for its students and employees of Indian companies, particularly its software businesses, a report said
A free trade agreement between the UK and India is not guaranteed, reports quoting British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.
The 43-year-old Sunak, who tagged himself "India's son-in-law," accompanied by his wife Akshata, arrived in Delhi, the first prime minister of Indian heritage to visit the country, on Friday for the G20 summit.
BBC quoting Downing Street said, the "historic" visit will be "a powerful reminder of the living bridge between the two countries."
Speaking on the way to the summit, Sunak said he was "excited to be back" in India, calling it "a country that is very near and dear to me".
He said: "It's obviously special. I saw somewhere that I was referred to as India's son-in-law, which I hope was meant affectionately!"
Sunak, according to The Guardian, is hoping to use the weekend meeting to overcome some of the final hurdles that remain in the way of a free trade deal, including the politically sensitive question of visas for Indian workers and students coming to the UK. But he warned in advance that success was far from guaranteed, even after 18 months of tortuous negotiations.
London and New Delhi, Daily Mail reports, had a £36billion trading relationship in 2022/23 but Sunak is keen to finalise an economy-boosting trade agreement with the country that has a population of 1.4 billion people.
Boris Johnson originally targeted an October 2022 completion deadline, but one of the hold-ups to a trade pact has been India's push for more visas to be granted to work in Britain.
Downing Street said the UK would not bend on its immigration stance in order to achieve a free trade deal, with no target date set by Sunak for signing off on new trade terms. There has been speculation about another visit later in the year to seal an agreement, Daily Mail said.
The Sky News suggested that the most obvious hurdle toward a deal is India's desire for the UK to make more visas available for its students and employees of Indian companies, particularly its software businesses, which are among its biggest exporters.
This adds a layer of complexity because one of the biggest beneficiaries of such an agreement could be Infosys, one of India's biggest software and outsourcing companies, which was founded by Sunak's father-in-law and in which his wife retains a significant shareholding, according to Sky News.
Yet visas appear to be a red line for Sunak, as the PM's spokesperson made clear this week: "The prime minister believes that the current levels of migration are too high.
"To be crystal clear, there are no plans to change our immigration policy to achieve this free trade agreement and that includes student visas."
For the UK, according to Sky News, the key priority is for India to reduce its tariffs, which are seen as among the world's most protectionist. Just 3% of UK exports to India are tariff-free - while by contrast, about 60% of Indian exports to the UK incur no tariffs.
Some of the UK's biggest exports are heavily taxed, most famously Scotch whisky, which attracts a 150% tariff.
Another stumbling block, as negotiations between the two countries enter a 13th round, is India's approach to intellectual property.
One of India's biggest exports is generic drugs - sometimes described as "copycat" drugs - cut-price versions of medicines that were once protected by patent, but which are no longer.
Leaders of the G20, which includes the European Union and the likes of China, the US, Brazil, and Russia, began holding summits following the 2008 global financial crisis, creating a top-level forum to discuss international challenges, Daily Mail said.
Two of the most powerful men in the world were on the guest list, but aren't turning up. Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi will not be attending the summit.