India and the European Union (EU) on Saturday announced their decision to resume negotiations for a balanced and comprehensive trade agreement after a gap of eight years and unveiled an ambitious connectivity partnership, during a virtual meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and leaders of 27 member nations of the bloc.
In his remarks, Modi invited the EU to support a proposal by India and South Africa to waive patents on COVID-19 vaccines so that there can be equitable vaccine access for the entire world, officials said.
However, there was no concrete decision on the matter from the EU side, according to EU officials.
The meeting, participated by leaders of EU member states as well as the top leadership of the EU, also decided to launch negotiations on two other key agreements on investment protection and geographical indications.
Secretary(West) in the Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup said the two sides agreed to resume negotiations for a balanced and comprehensive free trade and investment agreements and that talks on both the pacts will be pursued on parallel tracks with an intention to achieve early conclusion of both of them.
The negotiations for the ambitious free trade agreement, launched in 2007, were suspended in 2013 amidst difference on crucial issues, including tariff rules and market access.
"It is a watershed moment in the India-EU Strategic Partnership. It is a culmination of India's efforts to enhance its ties with the EU and its member states in recent years," Swarup said at a media briefing on overall outcome of the meeting.
On patent waiver for coronavirus vaccines, Swarup said EU's support will ensure scaling up the vaccine production.
"Prime Minister also requested the EU's support for our joint proposal with South Africa for a TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver on vaccine production-related patents. The US has also supported the proposal a couple of days ago," he said.
"The EU's support at WTO for this waiver will ensure that we can scale up the vaccine production for equitable and global access and save lives," he added.
He said India will be watching the evolving EU position on the matter.
The joint statement said both sides supported universal, safe, equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments, and the strengthening of health systems.
"Our collaboration is essential to stopping the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring a sustainable and inclusive recovery in a more digital and greener world," Modi tweeted.
The statement also said that both sides recognised the importance of strengthening the specific mechanisms for the promotion of human rights and the role of national human rights institutions, civil society actors and journalists.
"We welcomed the resumption of the Human Rights Dialogue, which nurtured a constructive engagement between both sides, and look forward to the next meeting in 2022. We agreed to intensify cooperation in international human rights fora, in particular the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council," it said.
On the connectivity partnership, Swarup said it reflected the ambition of both sides to build on their synergies and pursue sustainable joint projects in third countries, most notably in the Africa, Central Asia and Indo-Pacific region.
He said the leaders underlined their commitment to a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific and discussed the new avenues of cooperation in the region.
Ahead of the summit, Modi and his Portuguese counterpart Antonio Costa, in a joint op-ed piece in Politico, said the EU-India trade agreement would send a powerful signal to the world in support of the benefits of international trade cooperation.
In a series of tweets, Modi said, "I thank the leaders of EU and its Member States for their continued commitment to strengthening relationship with India. I also thank my friend Prime Minister @antoniocostapm for this initiative and according high priority to India during Portuguese Presidency of the EU Council."
"Taking forward the commitment to transform India-EU relationship for global good, I had a virtual interaction with all leaders of EU Member States and Presidents @CharlesMichel @eucopresident and @vonderleyen for India-EU Leaders' Meeting," the Prime minister tweeted.
On trade, the joint statement said the High-Level Dialogue on Trade and Investment has been tasked to ensure progress on market access issues and supervise negotiations, as well as keep progress on cooperation on regulatory aspects and resilient value chains under review.
"We confirmed the potential and need for swift engagement in areas where both sides shared interest to deepen economic cooperation. To this end, we agreed to create a joint working group to intensify regulatory cooperation on goods and services, including but not limited to the green and digital technologies," it said.
"We also agreed to set up a joint working group on resilient supply chains, building inter alia on the experience we have gained from the COVID-19 pandemic," it said.
The statement said the EU invited India to join the Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency.
Referring to the connectivity partnership, the statement said it upholds international law, conforms with international norms and affirms the shared values of democracy, freedom, rule of law and respect for international commitments.
Swarup said the partnership outlined a shared desire to promote a transparent, viable, inclusive, sustainable, comprehensive, and rules-based connectivity.
"It will enable private and public investments in connectivity projects as well as leverage public funds to spur private investments in sustainable projects, through a variety of tools such as Infrastructure Investment Trusts, green bonds, Debt Funds, Real Estate Investment Trusts, and Export Credits," he said.
The statement said both sides strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and underlined that it is crucial that perpetrators of violence and terrorism are brought to justice.
Emphasising the need for strengthening international cooperation to combat terrorism and terror financing in a comprehensive and sustained manner, the two sides welcomed the imminent conclusion of the Working Arrangement between Europol and India's Central Bureau of Investigation, which will support coordination and synergies in preventing and fighting terrorism and organised crime, it added.
The two sides also emphasised their commitment to a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific space, underpinned by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, democracy, and rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation and overflight.
"In this context, we welcomed the development by the EU of its Strategy for cooperation with the Indo-Pacific and agreed to strengthen our cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, including in the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and in relevant regional fora," the statement said.
"We recognised the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) unity and centrality and committed to increasing cooperation and exchanges in the ASEAN-led framework such as the ASEAN Regional Forum," it said.
It said the EU also appreciated India's Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, which intends to promote international coordination and cooperation in the region.
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