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What’s at stake in talks for a UK-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA)?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FTA

Mains level : India-UK FTA

India and the UK recently revived talks for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to encourage trade and investment. The FTA between India and UK is expected to be signed by October.

What is a Free Trade Agreement (FTA)?

  • It is an agreement between two or more countries to minimize barriers to imports and exports of products and services among them.
  • It includes reducing tariffs, quotas, subsidies or prohibitions which could limit exchange of goods and services across borders.
  • The FTA might allow free trade among the two nations with a few exceptions.
  • This involves a formal and mutual agreement signed between two or more countries.
  • The agreement could be comprehensive and include goods, services, investment, intellectual property, competition, government procurement and other areas.

What is the status of the India-UK FTA?

  • India and the United Kingdom have a multi-dimensional strategic partnership and are actively engaged in bilateral trade.
  • The two countries agreed to begin formal negotiations for an FTA in January 2022, aiming to advance trade and investment relations between them.
  • The fifth round of FTA talks concluded on 29 July, and the expectation is that negotiations would be completed and the stage set for the FTA by October.
  • The FTA is important for both countries as it would provide a boost and create a robust framework of overall trade and investment between the two countries.

Which are the countries with which India has FTAs?

  • As of April 2022, India had 13 FTAs, including the South Asian Free Trade Area, and with Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand, Singapore, Japan and Malaysia.
  • The 13 also include the agreements with Mauritius, UAE and Australia signed during the last five years.
  • Additionally, India has also signed six limited Preferential Trade Agreements.

What is the level of India-UK trade?

  • Bilateral trade stands at $50 billion (ie approx. $35 billion in services and $15 billion in merchandise).
  • India is UK’s 12th largest trading partner and accounts for 1.9% of UK’s total trade in four quarters to the end of 2022.
  • UK is the seventh largest export destination for India.
  • The trade balance maintained by India with UK has largely been a surplus.
  • Top three services exported from India to UK are technical, trade-related and other business services, professional and management consulting services and travel.

How will an FTA with UK benefit India?

  • Apart from reducing tariffs, the FTA also looks at lowering non-tariff barriers, particularly technical  barriers to trade around rules of origin, investor  protection and IPR.
  • MoUs on joint recognition of certain educational qualifications and an outline pact on healthcare workforce have already been signed.
  • Also, both UK and India have set up panels for a totalization deal being advocated by India and permitting Indian legal services for the UK.

Back2Basics: Types of Trade Agreements

(1) Free Trade Agreement – discussed above

(2) Preferential Trade Agreement

  • In this type of agreement, two or more partners give preferential right of entry to certain products.
  • This is done by reducing duties on an agreed number of tariff lines.
  • Here a positive list is maintained i.e. the list of the products on which the two partners have agreed to provide preferential access.
  • Tariff may even be reduced to zero for some products even in a PTA.
  • India signed a PTA with Afghanistan.

(3) Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement

  • Partnership agreement or cooperation agreement are more comprehensive than an FTA.
  • CECA/CEPA also looks into the regulatory aspect of trade and encompasses and agreement covering the regulatory issues.
  • CECA has the widest coverage. CEPA covers negotiation on the trade in services and investment, and other areas of economic partnership.
  • It may even consider negotiation on areas such as trade facilitation and customs cooperation, competition, and IPR.
  • India has signed CEPAs with South Korea and Japan.

(4) Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement

  • CECA generally cover negotiation on trade tariff and Tariff rate quotas (TRQs) rates only.
  • It is not as comprehensive as CEPA.
  • India has signed CECA with Malaysia.

(5) Framework Agreement

  • Framework agreement primarily defines the scope and provisions of orientation of the potential agreement between the trading partners.
  • It provides for some new area of discussions and set the period for future liberalisation.
  • India has previously signed framework agreements with the ASEAN, Japan etc.

(6) Early Harvest Scheme

  • An Early Harvest Scheme (EHS) is a precursor to an FTA/CECA/CEPA between two trading partners. For example, early harvest scheme of RCEP has been rolled out.
  • At this stage, the negotiating countries identify certain products for tariff liberalization pending the conclusion of actual FTA negotiations.
  • An Early Harvest Scheme is thus a step towards enhanced engagement and confidence building.

 

Also read

[Sansad TV] Perspective: Free Trade Agreement

 

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