On doubling India-UK trade
Despite the huge amount we do with India, there has been a bit of unfulfilled promise. We’ve got 850 Indian companies in the UK and these employ over 116,000 employees, so there’s a huge amount of activity that goes on between India and the UK. Having said that, there are barriers in our trade, but I’m sure that with goodwill on both sides, if we move down the path of a free trade agreement, the mere act of removing some of those barriers will no doubt impact trade.
A modern comprehensive free trade agreement involves much more than movement of goods — they cover services, they cover digital business, they cover SMEs. So there’s a huge amount of content in a free trade agreement. EU has tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a free trade agreement with India over the last 10-15 years. I’m very hopeful now that we’re an independent trading nation, we could do things ourselves, we’ll be able to move on with this when the time is right. The possibility of a UK-India Free Trade Agreement is higher now than it ever has been.
On sectors with scope for trade
We know India is interested in expanding its access to the UK market in a number of sectors, including agri food, pharmaceuticals; we can see great opportunities for services in India, for some of our professional qualifications to be valid in India, a number of other matters. I think it will progress when the time is right. Liberalising trade will benefit both our economies and how we go about these things, as you know, we do a deep consultation with UK business before we look to negotiations; once we get insights from UK businesses, that’s when we’ll put together our negotiating strategy.
On impediments to trade
India is a complicated country. It’s a country where you need to understand it to make an impression on it. I think the growth of e-commerce in India has played to certain methods; SMEs in England, branded goods, brands that might have found it much easier to access the Indian market. I’ve always felt with India, the British companies who know it and operate there do well out of it. Companies who don’t know it, don’t do business there. Part of the advantage of moving down the track we are, it’s opening people’s eyes to what the possibilities are in India. I always say that free trade agreements in themselves are fine but what you really have to do is to operationalise them, to bring home to British businesses, large, medium and small, how can they use these agreements to export more to India.
On inviting India for the G7 summit
We thought it would give rise to some very interesting discussions, having India present. I see it as something in a way that is no more no less than a manifestation of a very strong partnership that we have with India, they are a natural country for us to invite. I think the Indo-Pacific region is becoming increasingly important. India is exerting itself more on the international stage. We welcome that.
For the first time at the G7 we are going to have a trade pact associated with the G7. Trade Secretary Elizabeth Truss will be holding meetings with the G7 trade ministers. Trade policy and attracting investors have become two very important things in the UK, it is part of what we see as the economic bounce back after Covid. I want us to be much more muscular and entrepreneurial.