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Free Trade Agreement: India

Volume 718: debated on Thursday 21 July 2022

India is a dynamic, fast-growing trade partner, and a free trade agreement offers the opportunity to deepen our already strong relationship, which was worth £24.3 billion in 2021. Round 5 of trade agreement negotiations began on Monday 18 July and will continue until the end of next week. We have already closed 12 chapters and continue to work hard to reach a balanced and comprehensive agreement. We are in detailed negotiations and discussions on texts now and are confident in our progress with India, as we work towards a comprehensive FTA.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Clearly, doing a trade deal with India is complex and difficult. The European Union, for example, has been trying to do one for 25 years without success, so I wish her and her team well on negotiations. Clearly, it will be challenging to achieve it by Diwali, but I know that she is committed to doing so. Will she set out, for the benefit of the House, the benefits to the UK and to India of the free trade deal she is undertaking?

Our priority in talks has always been to address the significant barriers that businesses face in exporting to India. In the past decade, UK services exports to India have increased by 60% in current prices, totalling £3.6 billion in 2021. However, the reality is that India’s barriers to services trade are still relatively high compared with those of other trading partners, so this FTA will provide a great opportunity to address those barriers and support the UK’s service sector, in particular, to do business in India’s growing markets.

The Secretary of State must know that Huddersfield and West Yorkshire are the beating heart of the manufacturing sector; so many firms are good at exporting, and have expertise and a history of trade with India, but they are still finding huge barriers to any exporting effort they make. Can her Department not really step up the action to help, especially for the small and medium-sized enterprises?

As always, the hon. Member is a champion of businesses in his constituency. He is exactly right: those barriers to trade are still difficult, and the free trade agreement brings us the opportunity to work with India to strip away those market access barriers. We are listening, obviously, through the consultation process. On the FTA process, at the beginning of the year we asked businesses to talk to us and share their own experiences and the particular areas where they wanted us to negotiate reductions in barriers. I hope that we are doing that. I would be very happy to hear directly from the hon. Member’s businesses whether they have particular areas in mind. We are looking to reach a broad and comprehensive agreement that will strip away many of those market access barriers, be they tariff areas around goods or, indeed, those very many areas of service sector activity, which will benefit both sides. We have some highly mutually compatible business opportunities to work on together.