According to highly placed Indian government sources, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to arrive in India next week, shortly after the long Easter break in the United Kingdom, with a state visit that highlights the successful India-UK partnership on the agenda, in addition to a busy schedule in New Delhi. Johnson will be the first British leader to visit India since the country gained independence in 1947.
According to Downing Street, the visit next week would take place after four out of 26 chapters in the current India-United Kingdom free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations have been successfully completed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump are likely to take stock of the negotiations and set a deadline for the possible completion of the process, which was originally scheduled for the end of this calendar year.
The third round of official negotiations is scheduled to begin later this month, and according to officials close to the discussions, “significant progress” has also been made in the remaining 22 chapters of the FTA at the conclusion of the first two rounds of official negotiations, with the third round of talks scheduled to begin later this month.
Johnson’s travel to India is likely to be focused on the days of April 21 and 22, when he would engage in bilateral conversations and contacts with Indian business leaders. A joint statement, which is currently being drafted by both sides, is expected to include agreements in a range of sectors, including defence and security, as well as education.
The war between Russia and Ukraine is expected to dominate discussions at the meeting, but authorities have stated that other regional issues, such as the situation in Afghanistan and the United Kingdom’s Indo-Pacific strategy, would also be high on the agenda of the bilateral visit.
The sources believe that negotiations with the United Kingdom about India’s stance on the Russia-Ukraine issue have remained “cordial,” with a mutual respect for New Delhi’s desire for a peaceful resolution through diplomatic means in the conflict.
As a result of India’s long-standing defence equipment relationships with Russia, closer defence ties that overcome some “legacy difficulties” concerning technology transfer and make advantage of the ‘Make in India’ initiative are considered as a critical component of future India-UK relations. Modi and Johnson last met in person on the sidelines of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November last year, when their discussions during the World Leaders’ Summit focused on the India-UK climate partnership as well a review of the 2030 Roadmap, which the pair had signed during a virtual summit in May 2021 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
In a press release, the Roadmap for Growth, which intends to at least treble bilateral trade between India and the United Kingdom by 2030, is described as a comprehensive agreement that prioritises areas where the two countries are “natural partners.”
Johnson’s expected visit next week is widely regarded as long overdue, having been postponed twice previously – first when he was invited as the chief guest for Republic Day celebrations in early 2021 due to a COVID-19 spike in the UK, and then again as a result of the pandemic situation in India around this time last year – and is expected to be a major boost to the economy.