Starmer sees UK-India trade deal as 'first step in wider strategic partnership'

Tue 27 Jun 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Keir Starmer official portrait

Labour leader Keir Starmer has said his party will seek a relationship that forms a “new strategic partnership with India”, based on “global security, climate security, economic security”, if his party wins the next election.

Speaking at the India Global Forum in London yesterday (26 June), Starmer also said that Labour “shared the ambition” of a free trade agreement (FTA).

A UK-India trade deal has been long sought after by successive Conservative administrations, with recent reports suggesting that serious roadblocks remain.

‘Clear message’

As part of his “clear message” to the event, Starmer promised that his party had changed significantly during his time as leader.

“This is a changed Labour Party. Across the board, we’ve embraced the power of enterprise, and understand that this is the only way to ‘pay your way’ in the modern world.”

Starmer said he would seek to deep the UK’s relationship with “modern India,” seeking to align with India on new technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture.

“In short, this is the nature of the relationship we would seek: open-handed, respectful, forward-looking and aspirational”.

Beyond a trade deal

Responding to questions from the floor, he said that a trade deal was “only as a first step in a strategic partnership that goes way beyond just trade.”

The Department for Business and Trade announced last week (19 June) that the tenth round of negotiations between the UK and India had taken place, with UK officials visiting New Delhi for talks across 10 policy areas.

When pushed on what he would do differently, Starmer said he was not privy to the negotiations, but his approach would be “about being clear about what our values and priorities are.”

Grace Thompson, public affairs lead at the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) said:

“Starmer's ‘this is a changed Labour Party’ moment in his speech heralded the key theme which would run throughout. He is marking out that Labour has a changed mindset, not only as an entity, but also in terms of its relationship with the world and with India, in particular. He is clearly working hard to mark his Labour Party as a business-focussed, outward-looking and pragmatic party machine.

“Starmer's repeated emphasis that Labour back the need for an India Free Trade Agreement also reflects the strong cross-party recognition of the importance of trade with India as a significant economic player on the global stage.” 

Sunak’s hopes

Ahead of the India Global Forum, prime minister Rishi Sunak called the UK-India partnership a “defining one for our times.”

Gillian Keegan, education secretary, is also scheduled to speak at the event.

According to the Times of India, Sunak met his counterpart Narendra Modi at the margins of the G7 meeting last month.

The pair said their governments were working to “finalise an ambitious and mutually beneficial” agreement and promised to meet again at the G20.

However, observers have questioned whether a deal would be possible before the two PMs face the polls next year, as general elections are tentatively expected around the same time in both the UK and India.

Former deputy PM Dominic Raab used a Telegraph article to push Sunak’s administration to “up its game” and deepen ties with India, pointing to recent successes by US president Joe Biden and the French government in securing agreements and lucrative defence contracts with the South-East Asian nation.