Naomi Smith, chief executive of @bestforbritain said: “We know historically that India starts rather more trade talks than it finishes, so this promise to negotiate a comprehensive UK-India trade agreement should be taken with a large pinch of salt.”
The EU is poised to steal a march on the UK in the hunt for a post-Brexit trade deal with India, as Boris Johnson announced only an “enhanced partnership” with Delhi.
Brussels hailed “clear momentum”, with talks on a free trade agreement to be confirmed as early as Saturday, threatening to put the UK in the slow lane in the race for negotiations.
The prime minister pledged that 6,500 jobs would be created in the UK through trade and investment deals with India, centred on health, technology and vaccine development.
The announcement comes ahead of a virtual meeting with Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, on Tuesday – after a dramatic Covid-19 surge forced the cancellation of Mr Johnson’s trade trip.
But the “enhanced partnership” seems certain to be trumped by talks on a fully fledged trade deal between the EU and India, to be confirmed within days.
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Those negotiations were suspended in 2013 after disagreements over tariff rules for car parts and free-movement rights for professionals, but resuming them has been a priority for both sides.
The move was discussed in a call on Monday between Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, and Mr Modi, according to a Commission official.
“There is clear momentum to strengthen our strategic relations on trade, digital, climate change and multilateralism,” Ms Von der Leyen wrote on Twitter. “I’m encouraged by the prospect of intensifying our trade and investment relations.”
Trade deals with India and the United States are the priorities for the government, Brexit supporters having once promised they would be delivered easily and quickly.
But with US president Joe Biden also stalling on talks, the UK has been forced to focus on deals with far-flung Australia and New Zealand, despite those agreements offering virtually no economic gain.
“The prime minister can talk in platitudes about future trade targets, but we’re yet to see the influx of post-Brexit free trade agreements that was promised,” said Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrat trade spokesperson.