India and the United Kingdom are set up for the “final ascent” on signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and expediting the pact in the next few months is one of the main aims of the two sides, British High Commissioner to India Alex Ellis said on Friday.
He said the two sides have got through the majority of the negotiations, but there are “tough issues” like the security of investments of British companies where some in the past had found difficulty in regard to the now-scrapped retrospective tax, in an apparent reference to the long-drawn Vodafone case.
On extradition to India of economic fugitives like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi, Mr Ellis said it is no longer a government matter.
The British Home Secretary had signed the extradition of businessman Mallya over three years ago and it is the issue that now lies with the court, he said.
“The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do turn,” he said at the India Today Conclave here Mallya, accused of cheating and fraud in India, has been declared a proclaimed offender by a Mumbai court.
India and Britain launched negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) in January with an aim to conclude talks by Diwali (October-end), but the deadline was missed due to a lack of consensus on several issues.
Mr Ellis drew a parallel to the signing of the FTA to long climb up a mountain.
“We have walked up the valley. We have now got up to the base camp. And now what we have to do a short and steep ascent. That’s tough and it requires trust on both sides. We got to adapt. We have got through the majority of the negotiations already and now we are set up for the final ascent,” said the High Commissioner.
The long-pending FTA issue was also discussed during an interaction between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his UK counterpart Rishi Sunak, who took charge of his new responsibility late last month.
“So I think there will be a push and when the two prime ministers spoke last week, almost immediately after Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, they agreed this is one of the main aims for the next few months,” Ellis said in response to a question on by when he thinks the negotiations will be completed and the agreement signed.
Stressing that FTA will deliver growth and jobs in both the countries, he said any trade agreement comes down to balance and added the UK wants access to the goods market in India which has high tariffs.
India, too, would also like to access the UK market, said the British envoy.
The High Commissioner said India nationals topped visas for students, overtaking China this year, and 45 per cent of skilled workers coming into his country on a visa were from India.
On Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has entered its ninth month, Ellis termed it as unjustified and said it is a matter that affects the entire world.
High prices of fertilisers, oil and energy are affecting every country, he said.
The British envoy said NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) countries are allowing Ukraine to defend itself from territorial aggression, “a military invasion that is unjustified, unwarranted and deeply harmful to everybody”.