India-UK to focus on five themes for 10-year roadmap in strategic partnership

Economics Times, December 15, 2020

India and the UK have decided to focus on five broad themes — connecting people, trade and prosperity, defence and security, climate change, and health — to elevate their strategic partnership to the next level while they prepare to host PM Boris Johnson for the next Republic Day.

These themes that would also contribute to a common approach to the Indo-Pacific region dominated the four-hour long meeting between Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and his British counterpart Dominic Raab here on Tuesday

“…In recent years as you know, there have been very big changes in global politics and we both believe that our interests are better served by working together more effectively,” Jaishankar said addressing a joint presser. “We focused on five broad themes — connecting people, trade and prosperity, defence and security, climate change, and health.”

“We reviewed the situation in Afghanistan, the evolution of the Indo-Pacific, and developments in the middle-east were among the subjects discussed. Challenges posed by terrorism and radicalism were a shared concern,” Jaishankar told media

Indo-Pacific was a special area of focus at the dialogue. “India has its own vision of Indo Pacific. But I will also recognise that other country too. There could be big overlaps and there could be a few nuances. It is a matter of satisfaction that there is today a growing recognition and acceptance for the idea of Indo-Pacific,” Jaishankar said while replying to a reporter’s question on Indo-Pacific partnership.

“We certainly welcome a greater interest and attention that the UK is devoting to Indo Pacific. We certainly look forward to working with you in different manifestations,” he added.

Raab on his part stated that Johnson has accepted to be the Chief Guest at next year’s Republic Day celebrations. On his part, Jaishankar said Johnson accepting the invitation for the Republic Day was, in a way, symbolic of a new era in Indo-UK ties.

When Raab meets Modi on Wednesday the two will discuss a ‘10-year roadmap’ for a new era in the UK-India relationship, closer collaboration on an Enhanced Trade Partnership, and working together to end the coronavirus crisis and tackle climate change. The Enhanced Trade Partnership will pave the way for future Trade deal.

It may be pointed out here that the UK is Looking East and India is emerging as the key pillar in that strategy. The Boris Johnson government is expected to soon launch its Indo-Pacific vision and align it with Delhi’s vision for the region to aim for a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

The subject was a key item on the agenda when Foreign Secretary met his British interlocutors in London a couple of weeks back. ET has also learnt that the UK is actively seeking Indian investments besides cooperation with skilled Indians.

The UK can consider to include India in a number of sectors including hard security; fintech; free & open internet initiative; space technology as part of its Indo-Pacific vision, according to experts on the subject.

The UK appears set to tilt further ‘east of Suez’—British strategic parlance for the Indo-Pacific—a move that has been underway for some time.

Britain’s Indo-Pacific tilt appears to have PM Boris Johnson’s direct approval. As foreign secretary in 2016, he said at a meet in Bahrain that the UK’s ‘policy of disengagement’ in the region during the 1960s and 1970s ‘was a mistake’ and that ‘in so far as we are now capable, and we are capable of a lot, we want to reverse that policy’.

Johnson recently told the House of Commons, after much speculation, that the first of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers, the 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth—escorted by a full strike group—would visit the Indian and Pacific oceans during its maiden operational tour next year.

Britain’s encounter with the Indo-Pacific world stretches back centuries, from trade competition with the Portuguese and Spanish in the 16th century, through the voyages of discovery by Captain Cook, to the colonisation of India and beyond into the 20th century.

The decision to pull back East of Suez in the late 1960s curtailed much, but not all, of the UK’s security presence in the Indo-Pacific. The UK is present in almost every country in the Indo-Pacific Region, including some where the United States is absent, such as the Maldives and Seychelles. The UK owned base at Diego Garcia, leased to the US, was strategically important during the Cold War, and will become increasingly so for protecting the rules-based system into the 21st century, as it sits astride crucial maritime trade routes that have seen a dramatic increase in naval traffic from China, India, Japan, and the United States.

The UK has, however, failed to publicise its role in the Indo-Pacific region or to articulate its goals and the ways in which it interacts with nations in the region. Yet in recent years, thanks to growing trade with China, on the one hand, and the efforts of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, on the other, Britain’s engagement with key nations of the Indo-Pacific has deepened

Britain’s relationship with India is complex, given past history. But as the major power in the Indian Ocean, India has the potential to be a major trade partner – especially in technology – as well as a security partner in the IPR for Britain.

India and the UK are examining ways to intensify trade ties following Britain’s exit from the European Union. New Delhi is interested in exploring a bilateral free trade agreement and has suggested that initially the two countries could start with a limited trade deal (early harvest) with a few items.

India-UK bilateral merchandise trade between the two countries has been in the range of US$15.45 billion in 2019-20, and trade in Services has been around US$ 9.5 billion in 2017. Bilateral trade has remained in favour of India but during the FY 2019-20, in comparison to previous year. UK used to be the second largest trading partner of India in 1998-99. But it ranks 16th in the list of India’s trading partners during the year 2018-19.

India invested in 120 projects and created 5,429 new jobs in the UK to become the second-largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) after the US in 2019, according to the Department for International Trade (DIT) inward investment statistics for 2019-2020. As per the CII-Grant Thornton India meets UK Report 2020, there are now a record 850 Indian companies operating in the UK, with combined revenues of almost £41.2 billion (£48 billion in 2019). Together, they paid over £461.8 million in corporation tax (£684 million in 2019) and employed 110,793 people (104,783 in 2019). This figure excludes employees of UK branches of Indian companies. If these were included, the employment numbers would be substantially higher.

During his visit addressing the Policy Exchange think tank on the topic of “India’s Vision of the Indo-Pacific”, Shringla also expressed the hope that the UK would follow France, the Netherlands and Germany in finalising its Indo-Pacific strategy in keeping with a definitive shift in the global economic trajectory from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific.

“The Indo-Pacific is all about looking at what are your options… We would like the UK to come in as a major investor and innovation partner; a range of activities in the digital and cyber age which may not have been even possible to conceive earlier,” he said.

Highlighting that India has not just mainstreamed the expression “Indo-Pacific” but also encouraged countries to perceive and define the region to its full extent – as the vast maritime space stretching from the western coast of North America to the eastern shores of Africa.

“For us, and for many others, the shift in the economic trajectory from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific has been hugely consequential. The rise of China and the imperative for a global rebalancing have added to the mix. A rules-based international order is achievable only with a rules-based Indo-Pacific,” the Foreign Secretary had said.

Coinciding with Raab’s visit to India, leading public policy bodies CUTS International and Bridge India through an online meet called for greater Indo-Pacific collaboration between both countries. The meeting emphasised that the two countries should work together not only for their own mutual development and benefit, but also to deepen cooperation as democracies, and to act as a bulwark against the rise of China, whose growing influence permeated traditional areas of strength in the region for the UK and India.

Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International said that India can be a reliable economic partner for the UK in its post-Brexit strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, since both countries shares a similar vision of free and open Indo-Pacific based on rules based international order. British economist Lord Meghnad Desai expressed his optimism about deeper bilateral collaboration post-Brexit and said “the UK-India dialogue should be pretty straightforward, as long as India knows it is in quite a strong position.”

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