Four British MPs have asked the UK government to make strengthening trade ties with India a priority in the post-Brexit era.
During a debate on Commonwealth Trade in Westminster Hall of Parliament yesterday, Conservative party MP Jake Berry led calls for focus on India as Britain leaves the European Union (EU).
“We need to open trade deal talks with India. We will be helped significantly by the Indian diaspora of 1.4 million people, which creates strong cultural ties between our nations, and by the fact that India is currently the UK’s largest export market in the Commonwealth. The Government must make it a priority next month,” Berry said.
He quoted a recent Commonwealth study which estimated that a UK-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) would increase two-way trade by 26 per cent and predicted that UK exports to India could increase by 50 per cent every year, something he described as a “huge prize” for Britain and for India.
Indian-origin MP Shailesh Vara, co-chair of the Conservative Friends of India, called on the post-Brexit engagement to cover smaller countries of the Commonwealth.
“In 2015, Australia, Canada, India, Singapore and South Africa accounted for 70 per cent of UK exports to Commonwealth countries and 65 per cent of UK imports from the Commonwealth countries. It is important that we do not just concentrate on the larger nations of the Commonwealth, big though they may be,” he said.
Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for a heavily Indian-origin constituency of Brent North in London, described India as an “old friend” which should be nurtured.
“It would be foolish, however, to think that we in the UK may simply pick up where we left off before we joined the EU. The world has changed, the power balance has changed and the nature of global trade has been transformed beyond recognition,” he warned, quoting Indian high commissioner to the UK Y K Sinha’s stress on mobility of professionals as key to any India-UK trade deal.
The government’s response during the debate was provided by Minister for Trade and Investment Greg Hands, who described the Commonwealth as “more important than ever”.
“It is an enormous market, but it is more than just a market. The Commonwealth charter has prosperity at its very centre. We have working groups on trade with Australia, New Zealand and India,” Hands said.
“Notably, the Prime Minister [Theresa May] made her first bilateral trade mission to a Commonwealth country — India,” Hands said.