'Lot of progress' in India trade talks: UK foreign minister

Britain's foreign minister has insisted during a visit to India that "a lot of progress" has been made in talks on a post-Brexit free-trade deal despite negotiators missing a recent deadline.

"We have made a lot of progress in the negotiations, and we continue to work for an agreement that works for both countries," James Cleverly said in a Times of India interview published Sunday.

"We have been very, very explicit that our partnership with India is one that matters to us and one we want to enhance and develop," he was quoted as telling the paper during the two-day visit.

India and its former colonial ruler have been negotiating for around 18 months on a trade deal that would be an important milestone for Britain as it seeks alternative markets following its exit from the European Union.

In exchange for lowering tariffs on British imports like whisky, India wants more work and study visas for its nationals in line with similar recent deals struck between Britain and Australia and New Zealand.

But a target date for a deal of the Indian religious festival of Diwali, which began on October 24, was missed with reports saying the talks had snagged over fears among Britain's ruling Conservatives of more immigration.

The Indian government was also irked by comments from Suella Braverman, Britain's recently reinstated right-wing interior minister, that Indians were the largest group of people who overstayed British visas.

However, Cleverly told the Times that he saw it "as a very positive thing that so many Indians want to come and study in the UK, that Indian businessmen want to do business in the UK. It's a cause for celebration."

But he added: "Of course, it does mean that we must ensure our processes are right."

Cleverly refused to be drawn on expectations that the appointment of Rishi Sunak, who is of Indian heritage, as prime minister could help boost ties.

"That said, it's lovely to see how much excitement and enthusiasm there is about the British PM here in India," he told the paper.

stu/axn