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UK aims to start trade talks with India this year

(Reuters) – The United Kingdom said on Tuesday it aims to start negotiations for a trade agreement with India by the end of the year.

“We are currently in the pre-ngotiation scoping phase of an FTA (free trade agreement), with the aim of starting negotiations by the end of this year,” a spokesperson for Britain’s Department for International Trade said.

“With bilateral trade valued at 23 billion pounds ($31.60 billion) in 2019, a trade deal with India will help boost British exports through lower tariffs and increased investment opportunities,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

A trade accord with India is seen as a key target for post-Brexit Britain. Prime Minister Boris Johnson reluctantly called off a trip to the capital Delhi in April this year after COVID-19 cases spiraled across India.

Since completing its exit from the European Union at the end of last year, Britain has been keen to secure trade deals and is particularly pursuing ties with nations in the Indo-Pacific region, home to some of the fastest-growing economies.

Britain’s City AM newspaper reported earlier that the UK government was looking at wrapping up a quick “interim” trade deal with India, which could see tariffs slashed on products like Scotch whisky before a full agreement is in place.

Britain will try to strike an interim agreement that would allow for free trade between the two countries under the terms of a World Trade Organisation charter, the newspaper reported.

Indian producers of things like rice could get greater access to the UK market under the interim deal, the newspaper said.

Britain said late in May it was launching a 14-week consultation on a future trade deal with India, seeking the views of the public and businesses.

($1 = 0.7279 pounds)

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, editing by Mark Porter)