India-UK aim to move closer to a trade deal

India and the UK held the 14th Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO) meeting on 24 July 2020. Established in 2004, fifteen years ago, JETCO is the main bilateral institutional mechanism between the two countries to discuss trade and economic issues at the level of Commerce and Industry Minister of India and Secretary of State for International Trade of the UK. An annual meeting, chaired by these two Ministers is held alternatively in New Delhi and London. The 13th JETCO meeting was held in July 2019 in London.


The 14th JETCO meeting, co-chaired by Mr Piyush Goyal, Commerce and Industry & Railways Minister of India and Ms Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State, Department of International Trade was held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic situation. Minister of State Mr Hardeep Singh Puri from India and Minister of State Mr Ranil Jayawardena from the UK had had a pre-JETCO meeting one week earlier to discuss market access issues between the two countries. They also briefed the two Ministers about progress made in their meeting. 


As the UK moves towards independent trade policy in the post-Brexit era, both sides are committed to making progress on a trade deal. They decided to make steady progress towards signing a Free Trade Agreement for which the two sides will work in a staged manner, calling it an ‘Early Harvest’ deal or ‘Enhanced Trade Partnership.’ To expedite the progress, it was decided that Ministers of State from both sides will hold monthly meetings. Later, a meeting between the two countries, led by Minister Goyal and SoS Truss will be held in Autumn 2020. 


Business-led Joint Working Groups submitted their recommendations to the Ministers in the JETCO meeting on three sectors, namely, Food and Drink, ICT and Life Sciences. These are three of the five priority sectors identified during the last JETCO meeting to remove trade barriers. Other two sectors are Chemicals and Services. Joint Trade Review is a mechanism that reports on the progress made in identified priority sectors to the Joint Working Group on Trade, which in turn feeds into the JETCO. 


India and the UK are the fifth and sixth largest economies, respectively. Both are service sector dominant and complement each other in terms of capital and skilled manpower availability. Minister Goyal had last year given an idea to explore possibility of ‘Design in the UK, Manufacture in India and Export to the World’ to utilise the strength of both countries. Given that India and the UK had bilateral trade amounting to £ 24 billion in 2019 is an encouraging fact for businesses and governments. This also puts a responsibility on policymakers and businesses to not miss the opportunity of expanding it further to harness the full potential of both economies. It is expected that the recently held JETCO meeting will be a game-changer in this direction.