Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar met British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London on Diwali, on the first day of his four-day visit to the UK to strengthen bilateral ties.
Mr Jaishankar arrived in London on Sunday and met Mr Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty, thanking them for their “warm reception and gracious hospitality”.
“Delighted to call on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Diwali Day. Conveyed the best wishes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India and UK are actively engaged in reframing the relationship for contemporary times,” Mr Jaishankar said on X, formerly Twitter.
Mr Jaishankar is expected to hold bilateral discussions with his counterpart James Cleverly and other dignitaries, India's External Affairs Ministry said.
He is expected to attend an event at Lord’s Cricket Ground and address a Diwali reception organised by the High Commission of India in London on Monday.
The ministry said his visit would give a “new impetus” to the friendly ties between the two nations.
Free trade deal
Mr Jaishankar's visit is seen as crucial as India and the UK are engaged in hardball negotiations for a free trade deal.
The South Asian nation is the second largest foreign investor in the UK. Its exports to the UK stood at $8.15 billion in 2020-21, while imports were $4.95 billion.
India is expected to overtake its former coloniser as the world’s fifth largest economy by 2025.
Since Britain's controversial exit from the EU trading bloc, known as Brexit, London has been expanding its markets and signed Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), especially with countries in the Asia-Pacific region that are some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
New Delhi and London have been negotiating the deal, announced in 2021 under the UK's Roadmap 2030 that outlines plans for the bilateral relationship and deeper co-operation on health, climate, trade, education, science and technology, and defence over the next 10 years.
But the nations have missed the deadline of the agreement that was set for the end of last year over differences in key areas such as tariffs, market access, environmental regulations, labour regulation, exemption of goods and geographical indicators among other issues.
Under the World Trade Organisation, geographical indicators afford protected status to products from certain regions, with famous examples being Champagne and Parmesan cheese. India has a number of geographically protected products including Darjeeling tea.
With the FTA, both nations aim to reduce barriers to imports and exports and could boost bilateral trade to more than $100 billion by 2030.
“The India-UK Comprehensive Strategic Partnership was launched in 2021 along with the India-UK Roadmap 2030. The Roadmap is a commitment to a partnership that delivers for both countries. EAM’s visit will give a new impetus to the friendly ties between the two countries,” the MEA said.
India is a major exporter of ready-made garments, jewellery, petroleum and petrochemical products, transport equipment, spice and machinery and drugs among others.
Whereas India imports semi-precious stones, metal scraps and ores, chemicals and machinery among others.
The UK is also the largest European market for Indian IT services, as per the Indian government.