India, UK boost defense ties, expect free trade deal by year’s end

India, UK boost defense ties, expect free trade deal by year’s end
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to bring up the situation in Ukraine during talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. (AP)
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Updated 23 April 2022

India, UK boost defense ties, expect free trade deal by year’s end

India, UK boost defense ties, expect free trade deal by year’s end
  • Boris Johnson said Britain would support India’s goal of building its own fighter jets
  • UK-India free trade agreement is expected to be completed in October

NEW DELHI: India and the UK scaled up defense cooperation during British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to New Delhi on Friday and agreed to wrap up a free trade agreement by the year’s end.

Johnson’s two-day trip is his first to the Indian capital as UK prime minister.

He started the visit from Gujarat, the home state of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the ancestral home of half the UK’s Indians, where he met business leaders on Thursday. On Friday, he was in New Delhi to meet Modi.

In a joint statement after the meeting, Modi and Johnson said they had reiterated their commitment to “transform defence and security cooperation as a key pillar of the India-UK Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and enhance engagements in support of a free, open, and secure Indo Pacific.”

“We’ve agreed to work together to meet new threats across land, sea, air, space, and cyber, including partnering on new fighter jet technology, maritime technologies to detect and respond to threats in the oceans,” Johnson said during a joint press conference with Modi.

Modi said he welcomed the UK’s “support in the defense manufacturing, technology, design and development and promoting self-reliant India.”

Earlier this month, India announced it had been ramping up domestic production of complex military equipment.

With the world’s second-largest army, fourth-largest air force, and seventh-largest navy, the South Asian nation has for decades been largely dependent on arms imports, especially from Russia, which continues to supply an estimated 55 percent of India’s military hardware.

International sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in late February have sparked doubts about future imports.

The two leaders also announced that a UK-India free trade agreement, which they began discussing at the start of the year, would be completed by the end of 2022.

“We’re telling our negotiators to get it done by Diwali in October. This could double our trade and investments by the end of the decade,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s visit has been seen as “significant in the overall bilateral engagement,” Dr. Ummu Salma Bava, professor at the Centre for European Studies of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Arab News.

“The India-UK relationship is at a new point of interaction, strategic engagement, and taking it forward,” she said, adding that while the two sides had earlier agreed to strengthen their strategic partnership, they were now “getting the deliverables on the table.”

Dr. Jagannath Panda, head of the Stockholm Centre for South Asia and Indo Pacific Affairs, said Johnson’s trip to India was a “critical visit” amid the current geopolitical instabilities.  

The British prime minister had pledged to raise the issue of India’s relations with Russia during his trip as, along with other Western countries, the UK has been trying to persuade New Delhi to drop its neutral stance and join in condemning Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

But in their joint statement, Modi and Johnson only said they had “reiterated the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a peaceful resolution of the conflict.”

“There has been international pressure mounting on India to take a clear position and try to condemn the Russian attack, but India has not really succumbed to those pressures,” Panda told Arab News.

“There might be a few sanctions India might be supporting against Russia, there might be few radical statements India might come up with, but I don’t think India is going much against Russia because of the national interest.”