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India's Modi and UK's Sunak reaffirm commitment to trade deal

G20 summit in Bali

NEW DELHI/LONDON (Reuters) -Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and British counterpart Rishi Sunak reaffirmed their commitment to securing a new trade deal in a call on Tuesday, as the prospect of an agreement ahead of elections in India fades.

Britain and India have held stop-start talks over a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) for two years. Both countries are set to hold national elections in 2024. Modi will bid for a rare third term, with the election dates expected to be announced soon.

"We reaffirmed our commitment to further strengthen the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership and work for early conclusion of a mutually beneficial free trade agreement," Modi said in a post on X on Tuesday after the call with Sunak.

However, while some progress has been made, an early conclusion of talks seems less likely after British negotiators returned from India last week without agreement on a range of key issues. Trade minister Kemi Badenoch has said talks were "challenging" and that the Indian election wasn't a deadline.

British ministers have said that they are prepared to take their time to strike the right deal, rather than accept a more limited agreement that might be quicker to negotiate - a point Sunak stressed on Tuesday in his call with Modi.

"The Prime Minister (Sunak) reiterated the importance of reaching an ambitious outcome on goods and services," Sunak's spokesperson said in a readout of the call.

"They agreed to remain in close contact and looked forward to further progress on trade talks."

The conversation between the two leaders comes two days after India signed a free trade pact with a group of European nations - Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein - committing to reduce tariffs, while New Delhi receives $100 billion in investments over the next 15 years.

(Reporting by Tanvi Mehta in New Delhi and Alistair Smout in LondonEditing by Tomasz Janowski, Ros Russell, Alexandra Hudson)