New Delhi, Nov 15 (PTI) India and the UK are not working under any deadline for the conclusion of negotiations for a free trade agreement as both sides are discussing issues that are "slightly" complex in nature, a senior government official said on Wednesday.
Commerce Secretary Sunil Barthwal said that the two countries are working to finalise the issues as early as possible.
"We are not working (under) any deadlines...because there are issues which are of slightly complex in nature and which have economic significance for both the countries," he told reporters here.
"So we are looking at those issues much more carefully...so there is no deadline as such, we are working under timelines," he added.
Joint Secretary in the commerce ministry and India's chief negotiator for the pact, Nidhi Mani Tripathi, said that the two sides continue to discuss the "outstanding issues" which remained unresolved.
"At all levels, there have been continuous exchanges to iron out differences and we intend to close as many as issues quickly," she said.
So far 13 rounds of talks have been completed.
Issues which are under negotiation include social security pact, automobiles, medical devices, movement of professionals; rules of origin; intellectual property rights (IPRs); duty concessions on electric vehicles, scotch whiskey, lamb meat, chocolates; and liberalisation of norms in services sectors like banking and insurance.
India wants a social security agreement (SSA) under the FTA. The agreement would ensure that employers are saved from making double social security contributions for the same set of employees (posted in other countries). Besides, the employees would also be saved from making double social security contributions.
Talks are also progressing on the proposed bilateral investment treaty (BIT).
The investment treaty is being negotiated as a separate agreement between India and the UK. These investment treaties help in promoting and protecting investments in each other's country. The main point of contention involved in this pact is about the mechanism for the settlement of disputes.
India and the UK launched the talks for free-trade agreement (FTA) in January 2022, with an aim to conclude talks by Diwali (October 24, 2022), but the deadline was missed due to political developments in the UK.
There are 26 chapters in the agreement, which include goods, services, investments and intellectual property rights.
The Indian industry is demanding greater access for its skilled professionals from sectors like IT, and healthcare in the UK market, besides market access for several goods at nil customs duties.
On the other hand, the UK is seeking a significant cut in import duties on goods such as scotch whiskey, automobiles, lamb meat, chocolates and certain confectionary items.
Britain is also looking for more opportunities for UK services in Indian markets in segments like telecommunications, legal and financial services (banking and insurance).
The bilateral trade between India and the UK increased to USD 20.36 billion in 2022-23 from USD 17.5 billion in 2021-22.
The 'rules of origin' provision prescribes minimal processing that should happen in the FTA country so that the final manufactured product may be called originating goods in that country.
Under this provision, a country that has inked an FTA with India cannot dump goods from some third country in the Indian market by just putting a label on it. It has to undertake a prescribed value addition in that product to export to India. Rules of origin norms help contain the dumping of goods.
On broad-basing the existing free trade agreement with Australia, Joint Secretary in the ministry, Darpan Jain said that the eighth round of talks is expected in the first week of December.
"Negotiations are going at a fast pace … we are also having exploratory discussions on 14 new areas such as competition, MSME, and gender...and we have reached a convergence on many of these areas like sports, labour environment, MSME, and traditional knowledge," he said.
He added that both countries are intended to convert them into formal tracks as soon as possible.
On trade pact with Latin American nation Peru, the ministry said that the sixth round of talks is expected in December.
Similarly, with Sri Lanka, the next round of negotiations on a free trade agreement is scheduled early January next year. PTI RR MR