‘UK and India share a long and enduring friendship and as we take back control of our trade, we can champion our global free trade agenda together,’ said Ranil Jayawardena.


Folks in UK are awakening to the growing likelihood of a UK-India trade agreement, with the friendly exchange in a telephone conversation between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 27 November. The public relations around this telecon suggest that a trade partnership or FTA might be on the 2021 horizon.

It looks like the bonding priorities are climate change and renewable energy, and Covid-19 treatments and vaccines. Johnson welcomed the close collaboration between UK and India scientists. The PM’s press release confirmed ongoing interactions across bilateral trade, defence, security and a commitment to the Indo-Pacific region.

This deepening of UK-India trading relationship was emphasised on 24 July at the 14th Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO). The meeting between UK’s International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, supported by UK’s International Trade Minister Ranil Jayawardena, with India’s Minister of Railways and Commerce & Industry, Piyush Goyal and Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs, has evidently progressed the removal of barriers for businesses across a range of sectors including food and drink, healthcare and life sciences, IT and data, chemicals and services. At that meeting, the UK and India agreed to work towards removing additional barriers, including the existing barrier on British exports of apples and pears to India and supporting Indian and British legal professionals looking to work in each other’s countries. The Joint-Statement issued shows the depth and breadth of intent across sectors from supply chains to space.

Ranil Jayawardena, Minister for International Trade, told The Sunday Guardian exclusively: “The United Kingdom and India share a long and enduring friendship and, as we take back control of our trade, we can champion our global free trade agenda together and make it easier for businesses to trade overseas. Britain and India have agreed to pursue an Enhanced Trade Partnership, the first step on the road to deepen trade ties and the route to explore a potential Anglo-Indian free trade agreement. We are ambitious for what it can achieve, and will continue to work hard to rip down trade barriers and investment blocks for British businesses, creating better jobs here at home.”

Some UK-India collaborations include:

On 3 September Jayawardena mentioned in the House of Commons the registration of Polyhalite fertiliser, an important combination of sulphur, potassium, magnesium and calcium, mined and produced in Yorkshire that can now be exported to Indian farmers to increase crop yields while supporting a cleaner, greener and sustainable environment. And UK’s medical products manufacturer Vernacare agreed a five-year supply deal with Manipal hospitals, one of India’s foremost multi-speciality healthcare providers catering to Indian and International patients.

In August, India’s High Commissioner Gaitri Issar Kumar said in an interview that she foresaw robust collaborations and joint initiatives across medicine, technology, space, culture and heritage. Some of these are already evident: SpyBiotech, a company with a novel vaccine platform to target infectious diseases, cancer and chronic diseases, today announces that its partner, Serum Institute of India (SIIPL) has dosed the first subjects in a Phase I/II trial of a novel virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine targeting Covid-19.

Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India said at a press Conference on 28 November SII would be there to help if Oxford-AstraZeneca needed help with scaling up their production.

India produces 60% of the world’s vaccines and in June at the Global Vaccine Summit PMs Johnson and Modi pledged their support to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, to save to help save up to 8 million lives over the next five years.

Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd was founded by gene genius Dr Gordon Sanghera CEO as a spin-out from the University of Oxford. This company works in multiple disciplines including nanopore science, molecular biology and applications, informatics, engineering, electronics, manufacturing and commercialisation. They have a track record of delivering disruptive technologies to the market. Nanopore sequencing supports study of 210 SARS-CoV-2 samples from Telangana. ONT projects and workshops in India are ongoing and they are holding an online seminar ‘Pandemic Preparedness: Lessons from Genomics and Lessons for Genomics’ on 16 December with Dr Rajesh Pandey, Scientist at Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, who will share his latest research using nanopore sequencing.

Hilleman Laboratories based in Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi, is an equal joint-venture partnership between Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., a US research-driven pharmaceutical company and Wellcome Trust, a research charitable foundation based in London. Hilleman leverage a cadre of talented scientists from around the globe and aims to be recognized as a “Center of Excellence” for early-stage development of safe, low-cost vaccines, vaccines by bringing together the scientific prowess of global partners and funders to benefit the world’s poorest.

A consortium of UK Government and Bharti Global has invested $1bn of new equity to offer broadband connectivity services, via a constellation of 650 Low Earth Orbit satellites. OneWeb is a communications company whose mission is to bring connectivity to governments, businesses, and people everywhere. OneWeb will be launching another 34-36 satellites in December, bringing its in-orbit fleet to 110 satellites and is on track to begin commercial connectivity services to the UK and the Arctic region in late 2021 and will expand to delivering global services in 2022. OneWeb will work with UK commercial and academic space communities, along with other international specialists including ISRO. Sunil Bharti, Founder and Chairman, Bharti Global said, “Together with our partners at HMG, we are looking forward to a new LEO opportunity. Innovation, resilience and growth in the high-tech sector are all served by this powerful global opportunity.”

Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, is seen regularly having meetings with Prakash Javadekar and other Ministers about COP26 and Re-Invest India, Sharma also discussed India’s climate leadership with Dr P.K. Mishra, PM Modi’s Principal Secretary.

William Russell, Lord Mayor of London and Ambassador for the City and UK’s financial-professional services sector, just completed a virtual tour of India to build a more resilient future fintech and green finance partnership.

Last but not least, PM Johnson confirmed to PM Modi that HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Task Group will set sail to the Indo Pacific in 2021, as Commodore Steve Moorehouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, said recently, Carrier Strike offers Britain choice and flexibility on the global stage; it reassures our friends and allies and presents a powerful deterrent to would-be adversaries.”

On 1 December the new immigration routes were published, from 1 January 2021 all foreign nationals will have to apply for a visa online. The system is Australia-style points-based and simpler: skilled workers now need a job offer with salary £25,600 + skills + English proficiency = a visa. Other routes that have opened up are Global Talent visas for people who can show they have exceptional talent, Innovator visa for a person seeking to establish a business in the UK based on an innovative, viable and scalable business idea, Start-up visa and the Intra-company Transfer visa. The Student route and Child Student route opened on 5 October, to eligible international students from across the globe, who have a place on a recognised course, enough money to pay for it and support themselves, and are able to speak-read-write-understand English.

As the UK High Commission in Delhi noted, 2021 is a big year for India-UK. UK will be G7 President and host Cop26 in Glasgow, India will be a key member as BRICS Chair and non-permanent member of the UNSC. And in 2022 the 75th year of Independence, India will be G20 President.

There is a new optimism that the JETCO team have broken down trade barriers, encouraged bi-lateral investment and are reducing tariffs. As we head towards 31 December and the conclusion of UK’s old relationship with the EU, many British citizens hope for a new relationship with India.