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India, UK agree on roadmap to broaden ties, to boost cooperation in Indo-Pacific

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New Delhi, Dec 16: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will visit India next month to attend the Republic Day celebrations as the chief guest, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced on Tuesday after holding talks with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during which the two sides agreed on the key elements of an ambitious 10-year roadmap to further broaden ties, and also boost strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar with his British counterpart Dominic Raab

Duing their wide-ranging talks, Jaishankar and Raab also discussed ways to enhance trade partnership which could be a stepping stone towards a future free trade agreement.

At a joint press conference with Raab, Jaishankar said the nearly four-hour talks focused on five key areas --trade and prosperity, defence and security, climate change, healthcare and people-to-people connectivity.

The two sides also reviewed the situation in Afghanistan, the evolution of the Indo-Pacific and developments in the Middle East besides discussion on shared concerns over challenges posed by terrorism and radicalism, he said.

"Overall, it would be fair to say that we had a very productive discussion as our partnership becomes more ambitious and consequential," Jaishankar said.

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Raab said "Prime Minister Boris Johnson has invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to join the UK-hosted G7 summit next year. The UK Prime Minister has also accepted the very generous invitation to attend India's Republic Day celebrations (as chief guest) in January which is a great honour."

According to Downing Street, Johnson while describing India as a key player in the Indo-Pacific region said that his visit will mark the start of an "exciting year" for Global Britain and deliver a "quantum leap" in the bilateral ties.

Downing Street said that trade and investment, defence and security, health and climate change have been identified as some of the priority areas of focus on both sides for the visit in the New Year.

"I am absolutely delighted to be visiting India next year at the start of an exciting year for Global Britain, and look forward to delivering the quantum leap in our bilateral relationship that Prime Minister Modi and I have pledged to achieve," said Johnson.

"As a key player in the Indo-Pacific region, India is an increasingly indispensable partner for the United Kingdom as we work to boost jobs and growth, confront shared threats to our security and protect our planet," he said.

Talking about growing congruence in strategic ties, the British foreign secretary said a closer relationship with India, and the wider Indo-Pacific region, is one of the "very highest policy priorities" for the UK government.

"We agreed on the key elements of a 10-year UK-India roadmap so that we can deliver a step change in ambition for the relationship between our two countries. We look forward to taking this forward in 2021 ,including through the UK's Presidency of the G7 and also our Presidency of the UN Climate Change Conference," Raab said.

Noting that India and the UK already have a strong and growing trade relationship and in the year before the pandemic hit, bilateral trade between India and the UK grew at a vibrant 11 per cent, the British foreign secretary said the UK wants to further deepen its economic partnership.

"Now what we want to do is take that up to another level working towards agreeing an enhanced trade partnership next year, which itself we hope will be a stepping stone towards a future Free Trade Agreement," he said.

Raab's three-day visit to India from December 14-17 comes at a time the UK is holding complex negotiations with the European Union on reaching a post Brexit trade deal.

In the wake of Brexit, the UK has been looking at ramping up trade cooperation with leading economies like India.

There have been apprehensions that its separation from the European Union without a trade deal could severely cripple its financial markets and may have long-term implications for its economy.

Raab's visit also comes days after protests were held outside the Indian High Commission in London in support of agitating farmers against the newly enacted farm laws.

New Delhi has already taken up the issue of safety and security of its staff in its mission with British authorities.

However, there was no official word on whether the issue figured in Jaishankar-Raab talks.

The British foreign secretary also said that his government is committed to building a stronger defence and security partnership with India, adding it will help in tackling shared issues of concern such as, terrorism and maritime security as well as piracy in the Western Indian Ocean.

"It will also help us respond to the new and emerging challenges like space and cybersecurity. We want to work together to ensure our telecoms networks, our 5G networks, are more secure and resilient," he said.

Jaishankar, in his remarks, also said,"as democratic polities, market economies and pluralistic societies, we can, we should and we will make a difference to the realisation of a rules-based global order."

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