Brexit: India And Britain Can Cign a Free Trade Agreement Now
The vote by the British people to leave the European Union has been interpreted in some quarters as a vote for isolationism; for withdrawal from Europe and the world, where Britain could somehow 'go it alone'. Do not believe this.
The British chose to leave the institutions of the EU which have bound the UK into a political project they were not signed up to. The other EU countries will need to integrate further both economically and politically to make the euro currency sustainable; the UK in the EU but outside the euro would have found itself increasingly on the defensive, marginalised and on the fringes.
The vision for the UK outside the EU is rather a positive, outward-looking one, retaining friendship with European neighbours and reinvigorating our ties with other nations around the globe, including Commonwealth partners such as India.
The vote to leave certainly does not mean the UK will be any less engaged in tackling shared regional and global challenges: from security and stabilisation to counter-terrorism cooperation, from irregular migration to climate change, from poverty alleviation to combatting emerging disease threats.
The UK will remain internationalist, working through its alliances and global networks. We remain members of Nato, committed to meeting the Nato target of spending 2% of GDP on defence and 0.7% on development aid. We remain members of the G20, G7, and the OSCE, as well as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, where we support India's bid to get a permanent seat.
Far from withdrawing, the UK will be free to pursue an engaged and energetic role in the world aligned to its people, economic strengths, history and culture. This means the friendship and cultural bonds between India and the UK will only strengthen.
The UK will have an independent trade policy and we will want to use this freedom to strike our own trade agreements to build up our trading relations across the world. This, of course, should include India.
Our bilateral trade in goods and services was worth almost £19 billion in 2014. The UK is the third largest source of FDI in India. British businesses have the networks, products and services to develop skills and infrastructure in India, spreading wealth. Likewise, the UK has been a growing market for Indian exports and investment.
The 1.5 million strong Indian diaspora is the largest UK ethnic minority group. Over 21,000 students from India study in the UK and we are increasing research collaborations in science and technology. We should now start scoping out how we can build on these fantastic people-to-people, education and business links to open up more opportunities.
But reducing Indian duties on imported wine will matter less than doing so for Scotch whisky, or the UK could give greater access to Indian textiles and jewellery, or there would be a greater possibility of agreeing to a more liberalised visa regime tailored for skilled Indian IT professionals, such as software engineers.
A wide-ranging FTA would be a great prize for both our countries. Britain is open for business and ready to work with India to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of our peoples and to cement the special and strategic partnership between our two great democracies.