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India-UK free trade pact talks under way: Govt

NEW DELHI: The government on Monday said talks with the UK for a free trade agreement (FTA) are under way and dismissed reports that negotiations had been halted due to India’s concerns over the British government’s “failure” to condemn attacks on the High Commission in London by pro-Khalistan supporters. The Times reported that India has “disengaged” from the trade talks with an unnamed official quoted by the newspaper as saying that the Indian government believes that it is part of a wider problem of the British authorities not taking the attacks on the High Commission seriously. It said India wants “a very public demonstration of condemnation of Khalistan extremism in the UK”.

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Indian officials, however, dismissed the report as “baseless”. But attacks by pro-Khalistan supporters have been an area of concern, something that was flagged during talks with Canada earlier. India is also negotiating a trade deal with Canada and may go for an “early harvest” or a smaller agreement to begin with. In the case of the post-Brexit trade pact with the UK, government sources said the Rishi Sunak administration needs to make up its mind as negotiators often get conflicting signals. Already, talks had received a major setback following UK home secretary Suella Braverman’s comments on Indians overstaying their visa, to subsequently change her stand later. At the same time, international trade secretary Kemi Badenoch has appeared keen to pursue the agreement. Officials said there are several areas where the UK and India are yet to reach an agreement including on contentious areas of import duties on products such as automobiles and Scotch whiskey. India is hoping to get visa concessions for its businessmen and professionals in return for lower duty imports from the UK. It has pursued a similar strategy for the Economic Cooperation And Trade Agreement (ECTA) with Australia.