UK-India trade agreement ‘about deal and not dates’, minister says
The UK’s talks with India are “about the deal and not the dates”, a minister has insisted as a Conservative backbencher queried government progress towards a free trade agreement.
Trade minister Nigel Huddleston told the Commons “we will not tie our hands in terms of setting an arbitrary deadline”.
He spoke in response to Conservative MP Bob Blackman who claimed the minister’s “predecessor bar one promised a free trade deal by Diwali”.
Blackman said: “This month we’re due to have the seventh round of trade talks with our partners in India towards a free trade agreement.
“[The minister’s] predecessor bar one promised a free trade deal by Diwali, so what assessment has she (business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch) made about achieving a free trade deal by Diwali this year?”
Huddleston responded: “Indeed, the secretary of state has been very clear it’s about the deal and not the dates and, therefore, we will not tie our hands in terms of setting an arbitrary deadline.
“But I am pleased to confirm that round eight of the discussions is currently under way.
“Both nations have committed to a very ambitious deal and we’re working together for a mutually ambitious deal and we’re working through substantive issues like goods, market access, services and investment.
“The deal with India is vitally important. This is £35bn of bilateral trade, sustaining half a million jobs in the two countries, so it’s vital that we expand on this deal.”
Badenoch told MPs during her department’s Commons questions that the government is “not lowering food standards at all for any free trade agreements that we are signing”.
Free trade concerns
Her comments came as shadow international trade minister Ruth Cadbury raised concerns the government “could weaken standards on pesticides and other factors in a rush to sign free trade agreements”.
Cadbury asked: “Here in the UK we’re rightly proud of our high food standards, standards that include very low allowable levels of pesticide residues in the food we eat.
“However, organisations such as the Pesticide Action Network have warned that the government could weaken standards on pesticides and other factors in a rush to sign free trade agreements (FTAs) in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Can the government, therefore, confirm that new FTAs will not lead to a weakening of standards such as pesticide residues on food entering the UK?”
Badenoch replied: “We have repeatedly said that we are not lowering food standards at all for any free trade agreements that we are signing.
“That is something that we have committed to and we would want to reassure all of those who lobby on this issue that our negotiators have this very much at the forefront of their minds.”
By Elizabeth Arnold, PA Political Staff