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UPSC Sansad TV: Spotlight- India-United Kingdom defence ties

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Introduction:

In January 2024, India’s Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh concluded a three-day visit to the United Kingdom. As the first defence ministerial visit in 22 years it signifies a ‘reset’ of bilateral defence ties, even as the two countries acknowledge their different stances on the Russia–Ukraine war. The visit demonstrated both sides’ willingness to prioritise bilateral defence cooperation and to further prospects for the delivery of military capabilities to India. Yet several challenges remain.

 India-UK Trade:

  • India outlined his goal of integrating defence industries of India and UK, including through supply chain integration to build resilience.
  • DM stressed the importance of bilateral start-up level interaction, and identification and discussion of joint projects that India and the UK could implement together.
  • India has had strong historical ties with the U.K. and currently, it is one of India’s most important trading partners.
  • It is a significant partner of India as an FDI investor.
  • Similarly, the K. is one of the largest investors in India, among the G20 countries.
  • India has engagement with the UK in sectors like pharma, textiles, leather, industrial machinery, furniture, and toys.
  • India is also looking to the UK to support it with technology-based products such as high-quality cameras, medical devices, and automobiles.

Close relations

    • During the roundtable, both ministers welcomed the investment and technology collaboration, emphasizing India’s skilled workforce, pro-FDI environment, and expansive domestic market
    • The Defence Minister stressed the symbiotic relationship between India and the UK, envisioning a strategic partnership for cooperation and innovation. Grant Shapps echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the partnership’s strategic nature beyond a mere buyer-seller relationship.
    • India-U.K. links are substantial. One and a half million persons of Indian origin reside in Britain, 15 of them are Members of Parliament, three in Cabinet and two holding high office as Finance and Home Ministers.
    • Before COVID-19, there were half a million tourists from India to Britain annually and twice that figure in the reverse direction.
    • Around 35,000 Indians study in Britain despite restrictive opportunities for post-graduation employment.
    • Britain is among the top investors in India and India is the second-biggest investor and a major job creator in Britain.
    • This will help to envision closer military ties, cooperation in Indo-Pacific strategies, counter-terrorism and fighting climate change.
    • Corona pandemic and cooperation for vaccine manufacturing – The highlight of India’s relations will be closer cooperation on the coronavirus vaccine.

Significance:

    • Brexit: The UK has been pushing India for a bilateral trading arrangement ever since it voted to leave the European Union (EU) in June 2016 and left finally in January 2020.
    • However, India had been resisting these efforts as it decided that the Brexit process should complete first.
    • India has been keen to understand how much of a “special and preferential” access the UK will get in the vast European market when it is out of the EU’s single-market dynamics.
    • Strategic Partner: The UK is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and one of the strategic partners of India.
    • Strengthening bonds with the trade would seek UKs support at global issues like standoff with China in the Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and claim for permanent seat at UNSC.
    • Review of Trades: India could seek a review of trading agreements including renegotiating tariffs on some items along with the tightening of provisions governing country-of-origin certification.
    • UK is a populist nation advocating ‘make my country great again’ and ‘my country first’. Their brand of democratic politics is self-centered and impervious to criticism.
    • Britain has now delivered one that is tariff- and quota-free and allegedly “takes back control over our money, borders, laws, trade, and our fishing waters,” but has potential for friction both with the EU and domestically.
    • Modi visited the U.K. in 2015 when six major agreements were concluded.
    • It is unlikely that any assessment has been made of the implementation of those accords, but in contemporary diplomacy, it is common for a raft of new treaties to be superimposed on existing ones even where there is insufficient progress.
    • India has been fruitlessly negotiating a trade agreement with the EU since 2007, during which Britain was considered the main deal-breaker.
    • The EU wanted duty reductions on autos, wines and spirits and wanted India to open financial sectors such as banking and insurance, postal, legal, accountancy, maritime and security and retail. India, as always, sought free movement for service professionals.
    • The same obstacles with post-Brexit Britain will arise, because the export profile of both countries is predominantly services-oriented.
    • Therefore, when the time comes for a discrete agreement with Britain, the two countries may settle for a limited one perhaps covering pharmaceuticals, financial technology, chemicals, defence production, petroleum and food products.

Way Forward:

    • India is one of the fastest growing large economies of the world and FTA with the UK has played a significant role in enhancing the trade volume of the country.
    • However, according to policymakers, FTAs signed by India with the UK have not brought the expected tangible benefits and, on the contrary, have hurt the country’s manufacturing sector due to liberal rules of origin.
    • Therefore, there is a need for a detailed assessment of FTAs in terms of goods, services and investment flows by all the stakeholders involved.

Conclusion:

There is a every chance that the connections between India and the UK could create one of the most important and positive relationships of the 21st Century.