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UK-India FTA deal may face troubles; PM Sunak questioned over transparency issues over wife’s

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could soon land into trouble over lack of transparency in relation to wife Akshata Murty’s Infosys shares worth an estimated 500 million pounds and if the said company is able to benefit from the recent FTA trade deal which is still in negotiation stage with India, said media reports.

The software giant Infosys is trying to get easy access to UK for thousands of contract workers it has through changes in the visa regime, reported The Observor. Allowing more visas for its workers in sectors such as IT and artificial intelligence (AI) is claimed to be a “key Indian demand in the talks.”

“As the Prime Minister recently learned, it’s important he declares any interests properly. I expect him to do so in respect of the India trade deal too,” said Darren Jones, Labour MP and chair of the cross-party House of Commons Business and Trade Select Committee – which has been scrutinising the FTA talks.

Earlier this week, the UK parliamentary watchdog released its report into an inquiry where it concluded that ‘Sunak had inadvertently failed to correctly declare his wife’s shares in childminding firm Koru Kids that stood to benefit from the government’s budget policy.’

The Prime Minister of UK had to later apologise for the “inadvertent” breach that arose “out of confusion”, and the matter was closed.

Soon, Sunak is expected to mark his presence in India for the G20 summit in Delhi.Due to the controversy, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has even warned the Business and Trade Select Committee against conducting a trip to India in the coming months to examine issues around a potential deal.”The committee was advised by the government that it would be better to visit India next year instead of during sensitive trade negotiations,” committee chair Jones told the newspaper.

Shadow trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said while his party backed a trade deal with India, it is important that Sunak is “transparent about any relevant business links and his personal role in negotiations.”

“As the Prime Minister’s family may have a direct financial interest in any deal on immigration, he should recuse himself from this part of the negotiations to avoid any perception of conflict of interest,” said Alan Manning, a professor of economics at the London School of Economics.

Along with this, it is expected that India is prepared to cut tariffs on Scotch whisky and British cars and parts by at least a third if the UK is prepared to slash its workers’ tax to clinch an FTA.

According to reports, India is pushing UK sign a social security agreement similar to deals it has signed with countries, including Canada, Australia and France, that could exempt Indian workers from social security contributions if they continue to make payments in India.

“The social security agreement is a very important thing for us. It creates a lot of ill will if folks have to surrender a significant amount of their savings,” the newspaper quoted an Indian source as saying.

The reports come as UK Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch held bilateral talks with her counterpart, Piyush Goyal, in India during a visit for a G20 trade meet this week. Goyal said they discussed ways to “add further momentum” to the India-UK FTA negotiations for a “mutually beneficial deal.”

(with PTI inputs)

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