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5th April 2023

Dinesh Dhamija: Sunak’s win with CPTPP is a reminder of the importance of a UK-India trade deal

Dinesh Dhamija


When Rishi Sunak’s government hailed the new Asia Pacific trade deal as ‘the most important since Brexit’, it was putting an optimistic spin on a pretty marginal agreement.

Official figures show a prospective 0.08 per cent uplift to GDP from the deal over the next decade – so small as to be almost statistically irrelevant.

What’s fascinating is to compare it with forecasted benefits from a trade deal with India. This, says the Treasury, would result in a 0.22 per cent uplift over the same period. Almost three times as much.

That’s why people like me, who have championed a UK-India trade deal for years, are renewing our calls for more energy and commitment from government.

We reckon that a deal would help create upwards of 400,000 jobs in the UK and a million-plus in India. It would add tens of billions of pounds in export revenue each year, opening new avenues for entrepreneurs, students, businesses and investors.

Still, credit where it is due.

As a piece of geopolitical theatre, joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is an impressive achievement. As Rishi Sunak says, it “puts the UK at the centre of a dynamic and growing group of Pacific economies,” which includes Japan, Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand and Vietnam.

Quite how the British Isles, which sits firmly in the North Atlantic, qualifies as ‘Trans-Pacific’ is a question for the group’s geographic assessment panel. But it’s always nice to join new clubs and some of these members have terrific beach resorts, with all the facilities needed for agreeable conferences and summits.

Politically speaking, the UK now has the right to veto new members. China tried unsuccessfully to join in 2021, whereas the group would dearly love the US to reconsider its decision – taken during the Trump presidency – to withdraw from CPTPP’s predecessor organisation, the TPP, and come back on board. The prospect of Rishi Sunak sipping pina coladas with Joe Biden on a Mexican beach, while agreeing to keep China well away from the Partnership, might appeal to both men.

What Britain joining the CPTPP does show is that Rishi Sunak’s brand of diplomacy and leadership is winning new friends. You can easily imagine that one or more of the 11 members would have been mortally offended by something Boris Johnson said or did during his premiership, causing them to blacklist the UK.

There remain hurdles to a UK-India deal. In March this year, the Met police stood by while a pro-Khalistani protestor took down the Indian flag at the High Commission in London, leaving Indians feeling insulted.

But if Rishi can stop colleagues like Suella Braverman from disrespecting the Indian community (she accused Indians of overstaying their visas more than any other group) when trade deal negotiations are underway, and the BBC doesn’t repeat its ill-timed intervention in Indian political life with another hatchet job on Narendra Modi, then the long-promised rewards of a deal with India could soon be realised.

That really would be something to shout about.

Dinesh Dhamija chaired the EU-India Delegation during his tenure as a Member of the European Parliament from 2019 to 2020, with responsibility for negotiating trade agreements. His latest book, The Indian Century, will be published later this year.

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