Johnson pushes Modi for faster progress on India free trade deal

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi continued to express neutrality on the invasion by Russia

Sam Blewett
Friday 22 April 2022 09:47
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) with Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) with Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Boris Johnson has told post-Brexit trade deal negotiations working with India to “get it done” this autumn, but his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi set looser ambitions.

After holding talks in New Delhi on Friday, Mr Modi called for an “immediate ceasefire” in Ukraine but stopped short of criticising Russia’s actions in the invasion.

The Prime Minister has committed to supporting India to build fighter jets in a bid to reduce the amount of arms the nation buys from Moscow, and also wants to wean it off Russian fuel.

But Mr Modi continued to express neutrality on the invasion by Russia, its former Cold War ally, amid concerns in the UK Government Mr Modi has not been strong enough on the Kremlin.

Mr Johnson had been hoping to use the visit to India to move on from the partygate affair, but the trip has been overshadowed by deepening jeopardy in Westminster.

In joint press statements, both men said there had been progress towards brokering a free-trade deal (FTA).

However, Mr Johnson set a date for success in talks by Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, that this year will be celebrated on October 24.

Speaking alongside his counterpart in the Hyderabad House government building in New Delhi, Mr Johnson said “we’ve already closed four chapters” during discussions.

“As the next round of talks begin here next week, we’re telling our negotiators, get it done by Diwali in October,” he added.

Mr Johnson urged India to break ties with Moscow (Ben Stansall/PA)

But while Mr Modi said “good progress” has been made he said “we have decided to make all efforts to conclude the FTA by the end of this year”.

And his only mention on the crisis created by Russia when giving an account of their meeting was: “We emphasised an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine.”

Mr Johnson said an FTA would allow Delhi to lift tariffs on British machinery, and in turn UK could lift tariffs on Indian rice and textiles.

Mr Johnson announced a new defence and security partnership that will “forge tighter bonds between us” and an open general export licence for India that will be “smashing delivery times”.

The prime ministers met at Hyderabad House in Delhi (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Indian leader met Mr Johnson at a military ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan presidential residence on Friday morning.

It followed a chaotic day in which Mr Johnson was forced to drop an attempt to delay an investigation into whether he lied to Parliament because of a rebellion among Tory colleagues.

Mr Johnson told Indian media he would not get the same reception everywhere as in Ahmedabad, the city in state of Gujarat, where Mr Modi began his path to power.

The Prime Minister said he “wouldn’t get that necessarily everywhere” – he paused as both men laughed – “in the world”.

Mr Johnson later said it was “fantastic” to see his face being “ubiquitous” in Ahmedabad, where streets the Prime Minister visited on his first day in India were lined with huge portraits of himself.

India has declined to be critical of its former Cold War ally Russia and has abstained from voting in United Nations resolutions condemning Moscow.

As the West divests from Russian fuel, India has upped its purchases of Moscow’s oil and has been a major buyer of the Kremlin’s arms.

During the trip, Mr Johnson has been open about the possibility of accepting Delhi’s demands for more immigration to the UK, saying the UK is short of “hundreds of thousands” of IT workers.

But the PM was facing renewed calls in India to speak up for minorities and democratic rights as he visited a JCB factory, while bulldozers are being used to tear down Muslim-owned properties in communal violence.

He indicated he would bring up those issues during talks with Mr Modi, who is accused of damaging India’s democracy and of whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment.

During the joint statement, Mr Johnson again mentioned JCB, which is owned by major Tory donor Lord Bamford.

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