Kemi Badenoch will arrive in India on Monday for the latest round of talks as the UK seeks to revive hopes of a free trade deal.
The government is still negotiating a free trade deal with India after the target of securing a deal by Diwali in October slipped.
The talks, which are expected to focus on a deal to cut tariffs and open up opportunities for Britain’s financial and legal services, are the first formal round of talks since July.
The international trade secretary, who told MPs last month she wanted to walk away from her department billed as the ‘free trade deal department’, is flying to New Delhi for the sixth round of talks, where she will meet her Indian counterpart Minister of Trade and Industry Piyush Goyal, in person for the first time.
The visit will also include meetings with UK business leaders and companies.
Ms Badenoch said: “I am here in New Delhi to launch the sixth round of UK-India trade talks and to meet my counterpart Minister Goyal in person to take this deal forward.
“Both nations have come to the table with the highest of ambitions and a desire to work together towards a mutually beneficial agreement. I am excited about the opportunities we can create for British businesses.
Previous post-Brexit free trade deals have come under scrutiny after former environment secretary George Eustice claimed Australia’s deal ‘wasn’t really a very good deal’ because the UK “had given far too much for too little in return”.
Mr Eustice also criticized then-Commerce Secretary Liz Truss’ approach to pursuing the deals, prompting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to promise not to “sacrifice quality for speed”. in trade agreements”.
Mr Sunak met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in Bali in November, where the pair discussed hopes for a free trade deal.
Ms Badenoch’s visit comes as Pret A Manger, Revolut and fintech firm Tide all plan to expand into India.
In an interview with the Telegraph newspaper, Ms Badenoch signaled that the potentially difficult issue of student visas would not be part of her negotiations.
In October, Home Secretary Suella Braverman was accused of damaging trade talks after she said the biggest group of people who overstay visa requirements in the UK are Indian migrants.
Ms Badenoch said: ‘Student visas are a separate responsibility of the Home Office.
“So that they don’t enter into a free trade agreement.
“Often FTAs get dragged into things that have nothing to do with trade… Making sure we don’t let trade talks turn into talks with the Home Office is very important to me. .”
She also told the newspaper that Mr Sunak had evoked “a lot of warm feelings” in India.
Mr Sunak was born in Hampshire, south-east England, to Indian migrant parents – a pharmacist mother and a GP father – and is married to Akshata Murty, the daughter of the Indian giant’s founder computer Infosys, NR Narayana Murthy, with whom he has two young daughters Krishna and Anoushka.
Ms Badenoch said: ‘I think there’s obviously a lot of warm feelings towards him from India because he’s someone of Indian descent.
“It’s not relevant to the deal specifically, but it all helps to have good relations between the countries.”