The UK’s trade talks with India is “about the deal and not the dates”, a minister has insisted as a Conservative backbencher queried Government progress towards a free trade agreement.
Trade minister Nigel Huddleston told the Commons “we will not tie our hands in terms of setting an arbitrary deadline” as Conservative Bob Blackman (Harrow East) claimed the minister’s “predecessor bar one promised a free trade deal by Diwali”.
Mr Blackman said: “This month we’re due to have the seventh round of trade talks with our partners in India towards a free trade agreement.
“(The minister’s) predecessor bar one promised a free trade deal by Diwali, so what assessment has she (Secretary of State) made about achieving a free trade deal by Diwali this year?”
Mr Huddleston responded: “Indeed, the Secretary of State (Kemi Badenoch) has been very clear it’s about the deal and not the dates and, therefore, we will not tie our hands in terms of setting an arbitrary deadline.
“But I am pleased to confirm that round eight of the discussions is currently under way. Both nations have committed to a very ambitious deal and we’re working together for a mutually ambitious deal and we’re working through substantive issues like goods, market access, services and investment.
“The deal with India is vitally important. This is £35 billion of bilateral trade, sustaining half a million jobs in the two countries, so it’s vital that we expand on this deal.”
Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch told MPs during her department’s Commons questions that the Government is “not lowering food standards at all for any free trade agreements that we are signing”.
Her comments came as shadow international trade minister Ruth Cadbury raised concerns the Government “could weaken standards on pesticides and other factors in a rush to sign free trade agreements”.
Ms Cadbury asked: “Here in the UK we’re rightly proud of our high food standards, standards that include very low allowable levels of pesticide residues in the food we eat.
“However, organisations such as the Pesticide Action Network have warned that the Government could weaken standards on pesticides and other factors in a rush to sign free trade agreements (FTAs) in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Can the Government, therefore, confirm that new FTAs will not lead to a weakening of standards such as pesticide residues on food entering the UK.”
Ms Badenoch replied: “We have repeatedly said that we are not lowering food standards at all for any free trade agreements that we are signing.
“That is something that we have committed to and we would want to reassure all of those who lobby on this issue that our trade negotiators have this very much at the forefront of their minds.”
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