I met my Indian counterpart, Minister Goyal, at the G20 in Italy last week to discuss final preparations for the launch of negotiations before the end of this year. My officials have concluded a series of bilateral working groups with Indian colleagues, and we will publish our negotiating aims, the response to the public consultation and an economic assessment of the FTA in the coming weeks.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her new job. The EU has been trying, unsuccessfully, to do a trade deal with India for 24 years, but we have an advantage. India is the third biggest investor in the UK, and we used to be the third biggest investor in India, but we have slipped down the league table. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, now that we are free from the shackles of Brussels, we have the ideal opportunity to negotiate a free trade deal, which would be good for our two great countries?
I thank my hon. Friend for his passionate presentation. I know about his relationship with India, and I hope very much that we will be able to harness all his knowledge and passion as we pull this together. We are in the final phase of preparations for the launch of negotiations very shortly, and I look forward to updating the House on our negotiating aims very soon.
Businesses in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton are excited about the prospect of a trade deal with India. Can I ask my right hon. Friend what work she is doing with businesses with existing links to India to ensure that we can really leverage those connections and make sure that areas such as the Black Country—which I know my right hon. Friend is going to visit very soon to see some of those businesses—make the most out of a trade deal with India?
I thank my hon. Friend, and I am always happy to stop in and meet some of the amazing businesses in his constituency, for which he is such a great champion. All UK sectors and regions stand to benefit from a trade deal with India, improving access to one of the fastest growing and most dynamic markets in the world. Its GDP is predicted to grow by 8.5% next year and imports into the UK by 8.2%. I want to make sure that, as the trade deal comes together, we are providing both the tools and the liberalising opportunities for all our great businesses.
May I welcome the Secretary of State to her place and wish her well? I endorse the need for a trade agreement with India, but, as Cat Smith said earlier, I caution, in relation to any trade agreement, about the rights of those of a different religious persuasion, including those of a Christian persuasion. I met the high commissioner for India in Northern Ireland some four weeks ago, and pushed the point with her about how important it is, within a trade agreement, to have freedom of religious belief for all. Unfortunately, that does not happen in India. When the Secretary of State has talks with the Indian Government about a trade agreement will she ensure that it benefits those with different religious beliefs and other persecuted minorities?
As I said to Cat Smith, I am happy to discuss that area. As colleagues will be aware, the FCDO is always at the forefront of such discussions, ensuring that where we have lines of communication we are robust and firm friends on issues that we consider to be values, and that we continue to trade with others and have good relationships. We will continue to work in that area.